Gramercy Tavern

42 E. 20th St. New York

212-477-0777

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This was the first collaboration of “dream team” famed restaurateur Danny Meyer and chef Tom Colicchio (it opened to huge fanfare in 1994), and it remains top of foodies’ lists for very good reason.

Some of its appeal is easy to nail down. First, there’s the ambiance: an American tavern with the collegial hospitality implied in that tradition but raised to a serious level of sophistication. The wood floors resemble those that were once covered with sawdust but heavy velvet curtains add a rich touch, and the antique sidetables groan with luscious floral arrangements, even in winter. Antiques and a great collection of paintings bring warmth and whimsy to each of the dining rooms. Second, of course, the food consistently elevates market bounty to masterful heights, even though Tom has moved on.

During an autumn visit I had the carrot soup with cashews, followed by butternut squash risotto with brussels sprouts and the tastes of harvest and whispers of oak resurrected memories of autumns past with each bite. When my companion and I asked to share a tarte tatin for dessert, the waitress brought a second plate with two extra scoops of apple and sour cream ice cream, so we could split the tarte in two but have our own ice cream. Danny Meyer’s philosophy of hospitality spawned a best-selling book on the topic, but it’s the final ingredient in the magic mix.

As I waited in the foyer for my friend to get his coat, I noticed a stunning landscape painting of trees. When I looked at the right corner and noticed it was signed by a painter that I admire greatly, Stephen Hannock, I exclaimed to the maitre d’, “Oh, you have a Stephen Hannock.” She smiled, “Yes,” she said. “Actually, he’s having lunch in the dining room right now.” My eyes opened wide, “Really?” She offered to show me another one of his works in the private dining room and then brought me to his table. I got to tell him what a fan I am, and as she had assured me, he was such a nice guy that he didn’t seem to mind the interruption. Walking out the door, I felt as much appreciation to the maitre d’ for making the moment happen as I did for the moment itself.

Tip: The front room, known as the Tavern, which is where the bar is, takes walk-ins so if you can’t get a reservation, try snagging one of these tables.

Written by Melissa Biggs Bradley

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