The food of new America

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The collection of tables between the Gramercy Tavern’s grand bar and its imposing  entrance way  are some of the most coveted in New York. It’s on East 20th street, amid a particularly beguiling sea of highly acclaimed eateries, but still manages to incur hour-long waits each evening. The pull lies in the cuisine, which is American Nouveau and successfully  encapsulates everything that is good about the States today – fresh, multicultural and contemporary.

The restaurant is split into two distinct sections; the Tavern, a casual, à la carte eatery, and its decidedly more formal sister, the Dining Room. The latter, with its tasting menus and extensive cheese selection, glimmers with old-world luxury. The Tavern is a little brighter, a little louder, and comes decorated with beautifully abundant floral displays which line the walls and crowd the corners.

In the Tavern, we opt for the four-course tasting menu with beer pairings. It begins with a salad – delicious, but just a salad – which is matched with Allagash White Ale from Maine. The most impressive element of this dish was its extraordinary synthesis with the drink. The creamy buttermilk dressing complemented the soft citrus of the beer, transforming the taste of the salad entirely. The next dish came with the Evil Twin Bikini Beer, which was strangely, unfamiliarly sour, but still interesting. As the remaining dishes emerged – carried by a polite and well-meaning waiter – we began to understand more of this restaurant’s allure.

The chef,  Michael Anthony, has looked inwards, proving that the sprawling States can produce the ingredients needed to create the most far flung of dishes. One of the evening’s highlights, a reimagined staple of the Mediterranean, was a perfectly tender portion of octopus entwined with salty, subtle chorizo. And, though it is something that should conjure warm holiday memories, it felt so effortlessly suited to its surrounding.

Dishes of this kind rub shoulders with perfected and revitalised versions of American favourites – the types of things families eat in blockbusters and popular sitcoms. The duck meatloaf is a sophisticated reinvention of a classic, without any of the canteen stodginess that might once have been associated with it. The half-moon ice cream sandwich, with its sweet, crumbling shortbread, is refined enough to eat with a dessert fork.  Nostalgia, for those who were raised on US cuisine, comes in whispers and aftertastes.

Though the menus may, at first, seem to lack theme and co-ordination, it is clear after dining that there is a uniting culinary message here. It is that America, while new in comparison to its European counterparts, can be a formidable gastronomic destination. Michael Anthony proves this with his cuisine, which draws on the food of the country’s immigrants, the produce of its farmers and the favoured tastes of its short history to create a high-end dining experience that is truly representative of the nation.

by Becky Zander

Gramercy Tavern 42 E 20th St, New York, NY 10003, United States
Tel:+1 212-477-0777

For reservations, please go here
The menu is here