Is there ever such a thing as too many tomatoes? As I learned Saturday night, why yes, there certainly is!
I have eaten at Gramercy Tavern (on 20th Street in NYC) at least a dozen times. One of the things I always like about the highly rated restaurant is that they have always had a great vegetable tasting menu. In the past it’s been innovative, but I am so sad to say this past weekend it was lazy. After being a head above other restaurants, it was just like many other fancy restaurants, an after thought! It pains me to say this because I have so championed Gramercy Tavern over the years. I know some people from my culinary school who did internships there and I was one of the people encouraging them to work there. Sadly though after Saturday night I can’t say I’d recommend it anymore. Even the service wasn’t what it used to be.
The night started well enough with a nice little amuse bouche (corn fritter, eggplant & pickled skewer). I loved all three and could have eaten more of these “one biters”. It gave me high hopes for what was to come.
The second course was supposed to be watermelon salad, but since watermelon is the one fruit I hate, I was allowed to substitute it for the corn ravioli. The corn ravioli was rather refreshing with subtle flavors. Things were still going well, for now.
A pole bean salad was the next course, but this is where things started to unravel a little. It seemed like the waiter was waiting a longggg time between courses so I asked him nicely if he could just fire (put in the orders) for the next course faster because I had a babysitter at home. He kind of snapped at me and said “I’m doing what I can do”. Definitely out of character compared with service I’ve had there before. He also barely poured me any wine earlier in the meal (basically a few sips) and I just felt like he was very short with me in general. As for the bean salad, it was a decent course.
Now is where the parade of warm tomatoes starts. Oh and let me also mention there were warm tomatoes on the corn ravioli mentioned above so this is actually the second time tomatoes were served to me (the corn ravioli was a substitution though so I’m trying not to count it). Anyway this was a warm tomato salad with a buckwheat cracker and artichoke. It was ok. The tomato was a little mushy for my liking, but I figured it gave me my tomato fix. I do love tomatoes!
I thought the next course was described on the menu as an eggplant dish of some sorts. In reality I was given more warm, mushy tomatoes and a couple small eggplants. To be honest I just didn’t want another tomato so I took a bite of the eggplant, but then I didn’t eat anymore of this dish. Also this far into the courses I didn’t really think another “salad” type of dish made sense. I needed something a little more substantial at this point. I mean give me some lentils for protein, maybe even some dark greens for iron and protein, just not another potassium rich red fruit!
And……so imagine my surprise when the last course comes and the first thing I see is warm tomatoes. This time it was the same cherry tomatoes they served with the corn ravioli, but come on get a little creative. Listen I am all about buying local, in season, etc., but this was just ridiculous. I promptly moved the tomatoes to the side and ate the pasta. I have to say though I still didn’t love the dish after that. I love corn more than the next guy, but it’s not a good topping for pasta. Also, again, Chefs need to keep in mind that vegetarians like to eat balanced meals too and corn adds barely any nutrients to a meal so this dish just didn’t do it for me.
So here’s my note to any Chefs coming up with vegetarian menus. Remember three things: 1) Vegetarians and vegans still like a variety of foods. As a Chef I could make a different meal all 30 days of a month and never get bored. This is actually one of the reasons I became a TV Chef. I wanted to prove that vegetarians eat so many different foods, the options are actually endless. 2) Vegetarians and vegans like protein and iron too. Our proteins just don’t come in meat/seafood form. And no all our protein doesn’t come from tofu. Think about this when crafting menus for us. We get protein from a bunch of places, from all kinds of beans to tempeh and seitan to spinach and nuts. 3) Taste is still very important. Contrary to popular belief we don’t all just eat steamed kale. We love flavor, for me that is numero uno.
As for Gramercy Tavern I am sad to put it in my rearview mirror, but the night I ate at Gramercy Tavern I was tweeting about it and someone tweeted me back saying Del Posto has the most exquisite vegan tasting menu. So that could be the place to replace my tasting menu fix. Can’t wait to try it!
Side note: The wait time between courses at Gramercy Tavern Saturday night was so long that the meal clocked in at 3 and a half hours. I like tasting menus to be a whole night event, but not longer than a night at the theatre! Also you’d think the restaurant would want to space courses a little closer together so they could turn that table again, at least every three hours.