Friday, October 1, 2010

Gramercy Tavern and Pure Food and Wine

By West Village Bill

I enjoyed memorable dinners this week at two highly sophisticated yet decidedly comfortable restaurants in the vicinity of Union Square: Gramercy Tavern and Pure Food and Wine.

On Sunday, Bob, Jen, Tony, and I had dinner at Gramercy Tavern to celebrate my birthday, which was earlier in September, and Bob's birthday, which is early this month. Last year, when Bob and I both turned 40, I gave him a bottle of 1969 Beaulieu Vineyard Georges De Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. We said then we'd have to go to a fancy restaurant sometime soon and see whether the bottle of wine had held up as well as us. Or at least me. Ha!

It took us almost a year, but we finally had that dinner, thanks to Jen's initiative. (J&B have young kids, so it was always easier to eat pizza and everyday red wine at their place.) Jen sent an e-mail to Bob and me four weeks ago with the subject "'69 was a very good year": "sept 25 is about in the middle of your birthdays. let's say we go out and drink some 41-year-old wine? invite tony and we'll have a wild and crazy time." Gramercy Tavern has a strict "no wild and crazy time" policy, but we still had a wonderful evening. A day later than that planned date because GT was filled up on that Saturday.

The most important thing to me Sunday night was that the wine hadn't turned to vinegar. And if that barrier was crossed, I was hoping it would be enjoyable. The wine hadn't become a salad dressing ingredient and, in fact, was spectacular: bold, spicy, and refined.

This was the first time any of us had taken a bottle of wine to a restaurant with its own stellar wine list. GT charges a $35 corkage fee. The wine was decanted while we looked over the menu.

As he'd done when we went to Union Square Cafe—Gramercy Tavern's sister restaurant that, like GT, is part of Danny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group—on my birthday, Tony told our waitress to bring him any appetizer and any entree that contained neither gluten nor dairy. For his appetizer, he was brought a salad containing watermelon, beets, and plums. I got the Chilled Zucchini Soup, which came with three breaded and fried oysters on the side. Jen ate one of them, and I was mildly proud of myself for eating the other two because, with a couple of exceptions, I don't generally eat shellfish. They mostly tasted like fried breading. Mmmm. Fried breading.

For the main course, Bob and I both got a perfectly cooked beef dish that's no longer on the menu, with more summer squash, in a sauce that tasted of mustard, on the side. Jen got the Sea Bass with Swiss Chard, Capers, Pine Nuts, and Sweet Onion Sauce, and Tony was presented with Veal Loin & Deckle with Heirloom Beans and Shiitake Mushrooms.

Before the main courses arrived, Bob asked me to pick out a second wine. I hemmed and hawed and finally chose the 2006 Le Cigare Volant from Bonny Doon Vineyard when our plates showed up. Tony really liked it and complimented me on my selection again the next day. Bob, Jen, and I also enjoyed it, but it suffered a little in comparison with the other wine.

For dessert, I got the trio of ice creams, as I so often do, and Tony got the trio of sorbets. He said the sorbets at GT were smoother than the ones I whipped up this summer, but he had trouble distinguishing the flavors of GT's, whereas mine tasted a lot stronger and a good deal less sweet. Jen had also arranged for a birthday dessert, a hunk of German chocolate cake, to be brought out for Bob and me. Coolness.

Tony wasn't thrilled with his salad (though it looked like something I would have gobbled down), and he was still a little hungry when he left, which isn't a welcome sensation after a pretty spendy dinner. Of course, he couldn't partake of the bread, and the cheese that would have ordinarily topped his salad was left off. Those things would have helped fill in the cracks. :-) But he thought the veal was great. We all agreed that the service was impeccable. And the interior of the restaurant was gorgeous.


On Wednesday night, Tony and I dined at Pure Food and Wine with his terrific friend Mark, who was in town on business from Washington. PF&W serves only raw and vegan food.

For our appetizers, Mark and I both got a tartare of watermelon and tomato with celery, nuts, and a nutty cream. It was one of the most enjoyable dishes I've ever had; the tomato and watermelon melded together perfectly into something that tasted far better than either ingredient would have on its own. Tony got a plate of nut-derived, nondairy cheeses on crackers that were dehydrated rather than baked. I tried and enjoyed a tomato-laced cheese on a cracker.

Tony and I both found our entrees to be distractingly salty. He got the Zucchini and Tomato Lasagna with Basil Pistachio Pesto, Sun-Dried Tomato Sauce, and Macadamia Pumpkin Seed Ricotta, and I had spanakopita, which came with cauliflower and white grapes. (I can't recall for certain what the phyllo was made of; I believe the waitress said spelt and flax. I dug that part of the dish.) Mark enjoyed his Sweet Corn and Cashew Tamales with Chili Spiced Portabella, Salsa Verde, Cashew Coconut Sour Cream, Avocado, and Raw Cacao Mole.

For dessert, I got a mint sundae that was made with coconut based ice cream. With dinner, I'd enjoyed a delicious cocktail made from fresh Concord grape juice, agave, and sake.

I'd love to go back to PF&W sometime soon if we could be assured of getting dishes that were lower in salt. Maybe we could ask for recommendations of offerings that are routinely made with less salt or, if it wouldn't be insulting to the chef, for something that could be prepared with less salt than it normally is.

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