Tag Archives: central park

Grand Reopening of Tavern on the Green

28 Apr

In 2009, NYC lost a landmark.  Tavern on the Green went bankrupt. I had never been there myself, since it was way over budget in my first few years in NYC when I lived off of ramen and the kindness of business lunches, but I always knew it to be hard to get into and expensive.  Those two things should really never equate to bankruptcy in my mind, and I heard that they were one of the highest grossing restaurant of all time in 2007 (to the tune of $37 million) but apparently the economy, debts, lease problems, some bad business, and what I heard was a severe decline in quality shuttered the restaurant. DSCF3205 (view down Central Park West) Since it closed, reopening the iconic space has been a never ending cycle of delays delays delays The first official day of new service for the newly redone restaurant was this past Thursday, so I was excited to snag a reservation for Sunday, even if it was at 5:15pm.  I was excited to see what this iconic refurb had to offer. DSCF3204 Entering off Central Park West from 67th Street, I was a bit surprised to see that it was still under a lot of construction outside. It looks like they are working on the patios and gardens. DSCF3206 The entrance still has that elegant feeling, with a long covered entrance and a well dressed man holding the door open. DSCF3207 When you walk inside, the first thing you see is… a gift shop.  A gift shop? In a restaurant.  This made me roll my eyes.  I figured this was going to be an even worse tourist trap than I originally thought. DSCF3209 But we proceeded inside. Rumor has it the old interior was a lot of shiny metal and mirrors.  This had a lovely “tavern” feel while still being a bit upscale.  (Though I was surprised at how casual it really is) DSCF3212 There is a gold plated pegasus chandelier that rotates above the entry bar, however. So not all the gold is gone. DSCF3221   There is a windowed, glass cube porch-like area that looks out on… unfinished courttard.  I was actually a bit surprised to see that the restaurant does not have views of the park.  At all.  I’ve passed by it a thousand times but always just assumed you could see the park from somewhere in the restaurant.  But no dice. The cube reminded me a bit of the Apple Stores. DSCF3214 We walked through the main room that connects to the windowed terrace, which also contains a big window looking into the kitchen. DSCF3251 DSCF3252 We were sat in the back room, near the back bar at a quiet table for two. DSCF3222 DSCF3249     It is a large space, so I was surprised to hear that the old restaurant was more than double the size. The space used to be an old sheep barn, so the sheep play a prominent roll throughout the menu design. DSCF3215 The menu, by chef Katy Sparks, offers chilled seafood and ceviche, as well as salads.  From there, the menu is split into 3 sections: The Hearth (coming from a wood burning oven), the Grill, and The Plancha (a Brazilian griddle). I expected it to be over the top and ridiculously expensive.  It was certainly tourist pricing, but it wasn’t as ridiculous as I thought it was going to be (most small plates/apps were $12-$18 with entrees around $24-$34 with the exception of a $54 New York Strip Steak). The bread is served as crispy (possibly cheesy?) thin breadsticks and long thin rolls with an impressive dip.  I believe it had sheeps’ milk yogurt, feta cheese, oil, cumin seeds, rosemary, thyme, and a few other things. It was quite enjoyable. DSCF3223 We started with the Serrano Ham, Cave-Aged Gruyere and Sage Toast, and Anchovy-Caper Sauce.  It was a delicious nibble, though a tad bit greasy on the fingers.  I liked the combination of ingredients and it was different and a little bit special.  Though for $18, it was still a very small portion of grilled cheese. DSCF3225 We also tried the Fried Local Duck Egg on a Spring Onion and Smoked Ricotta Crostata with Anchovies and Oil-Cured Olives. DSCF3228 I really enjoyed the rustic crostata which had a great flavor (though when eaten on its own, was a tad bit dry) and the ricotta mixed with the egg and salty anchovies and olives was a very nice combination. DSCF3229 For entrees, we got the Heritage Breed Pork Chop, Wood Roasted Rhubarb and Fennel with a Local Honey and Verjus Sauce. DSCF3231 This had a unique flavor with the rhubarb and fennel.  I wish it were a bit more sauced (or thicker sauce?) because I found the dish a bit flat.  Good, but not great. DSCF3233 We also tried the Braised Lamb Shank with Creamed Chards, Pickled Golden Raisins, Roasted Cauliflower and a Fresh Mint Gremolata. DSCF3235 The meat was cooked perfectly.  Tender, and fell off the bone.  The meat itself had nice flavor, however, I wanted a bit more from the preparation.  Again, a thicker sauce may have really set this dish apart, or more mint.  I will say that I had one piece of cauliflower that was crispy and packed with flavor.  It was great. Unfortunately, the other pieces sat a bit too long in the jus and weren’t quite as crisp.  Shame. DSCF3238 As for dessert, we went with the Ice Box Cake with Ruis rye bread, maple-rye whisky pudding, sour cherries, maple walnut pralines. The jar that came out felt especially small for the $13 price tag, but there was something about it that was strangely interesting.  It was basically pudding and bread crumbs, but somehow it tasted new and fresh. DSCF3242 We also got the Spring Pavlova with Matcha Green Tea curd, macerated organic strawberries and rhubarb, chantilly cream.  I LOVE pavlova, so I cannot NOT order it when I see it on a menu.  This very was very interesting with the Matcha green tea.  There was also something salty that I really enjoyed in this. Added a depth to the flavors.  The pavlova itself wasn’t as crispy as I like my meringue, but it was still tasty. DSCF3246 Overall, I enjoyed my meal at the new Tavern on the Green.  If it were priced a few dollars cheaper on each dish, it would have been a much better meal.  It just didn’t have value. But it did have appeal.  Tourists will flock here, and there were a fair amount of children dining there, so families will enjoy it for a nice meal out where they can feel comfortable bringing the kids, however, I’m not sure it will regain its stature as a “go to” restaurant for the food. (Then again, it never was the “go to” for the food!) From what I heard, this is going to be quite the undertaking.  They will owe the city licensing fees of either 6% of the total restaurant sales or $1 million dollars, whichever is greater.  This will mean that they will need to make $17 million in their first year, which translates to about 1,200 meals on Saturdays and Sundays and 600 meals per day each week day. I don’t know if I’ll go out of my way to go back, but I’m glad we got to try it, and part of me hopes it sticks around because I’m a sucker for NYC nostalgia, especially in dining. Total Nom Points: 7 out of 10 nomscale- 07.0

New Restaurant Opening: Betony

8 Jun

When it comes to top restaurants, I find it very hard to judge fairly when I’m comparing a Tasting Menu to just about anything else.  For instance, our Top 10 contains 9 restaurants that were either Tasting Menus or Prix Fixe.  But seeing as though our Numero Uno of ALL TIME was Eleven Madison Park, we were excited to hear that a former chef from there (Bryce Shuman) and a former General Manager (Eamon Rockey) had started a new place that opened in Mid-May called Betony.

Betony is located on 57th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues, in prime Central Park tourist territory.  The inside is a very interesting space, with plush brown fuzzy seating and walls and ceiling carved and etched.



The menu is sparse but has plenty of items that sounded quite tasty. The left part of the menu is small single bites.


The middle is bigger sized appetizers.


And the right column are the entrees.



We had a tough time choosing, and when we asked our waitress for guidance, she explained to us that at least half the menu was amazing (making it so hard to choose!)

We wound up going with the marinated trout roe, “tuna melt,” hot foie gras, roast chicken, and grilled short ribs.

We began with some well mixed twists on classic cocktails (Mike got the negroni and I got the mojito) and the table bread was breadsticks (which looked like thin spaghetti with some delicious salt on them) and cheddar chips.  Both were salty, crunchy goodness.



Our first appetizer was the Marinated Trout Roe on a puffed rice cracker with cucumber.


Not only was this fresh and delicious…


… it was a work of art!



And then we tried the “Tuna Melt” which had a thin layer of melted fontina cheese on top and was on a brioche.  This was also stunningly beautiful and WOW was it good.  Like punch you in the face good. (I’m not even sure what that means but it seems appropriate somehow).



My only complaint about the “finger foods” is that there were 3 of each. With a party of 2, it leaves for some awkwardness when you each have one and then look at the last bite longingly.  Even though Mike and I have been together for over 5 years and we’re getting married next week (HOLY SHEIS MONKEYS! NEXT WEEK!), we still struggled making this decision. Mike was a gentleman, however, and told me to have the last bite of tuna.  I gave him a quick taste because I couldn’t be that selfish.  But honestly, I would have rather they served us just 2 or bit the bullet and served 4.  Fair is fair when it comes to delicious food.

We were then served an intermezzo “from the kitchen” which was a gooseberry compote with tomato snow.  It smelled like flowers and a summer day.  I found the compote very tasty but there was something… off… about the compote. It tasted very soapy. Like something went wrong soapy.  It was the only blemish on an otherwise spotless meal.


We were then served bread, which was baked in-house by the pastry chef and had caraway seeds, which reminded us of a Jewish deli in all the right ways.



Up next came the foie gras, which was just described as being “hot or cold.” Our waitress guided us to the hot one that came with crispy kale and ham hock consume (which was poured over table side).


It also had black garlic and a few other ingredients in it (including a top chip) that are escaping me. They served this with two plates and an extra bowl of consume.



This dish was very well composed and the kale and the foie were great together.  The consume was superb and they very smartly offered to bring more rolls to soak up the awesome leftover liquids.  The sommelier suggested a moscato which complimented the rich foie very nicely.


We asked the sommelier to recommend a glass of wine for each of the entrees we ordered, so he suggested a round Pinot Noir and a smokey Rioja.  Both were excellent with the meal.


Both entrees were also served with a sauce/jus at the table.  The chicken had a rich and flavorful, but simple chicken broth.



It was cooked on the bone but served without it and came with perfectly cooked turnips and morel mushrooms.  The skin on top was crispy, but if I can be a nit picker, it could have been a tad bit crispier. But the flavor was very earthy and the texture moist.  Well executed.



The chicken came with a side that had a grain (perhaps bulgar?) with dark meat confit and a quale egg.  This was fantastic and really nailed all the flavors. (Our waitress told us that in an effort to use every bit of the chicken, the liver dish was also created from the whole chickens they buy).


The Grilled Short Rib came with romaine (which was charred, and beautifully so) and sweetbreads.  A beef jus was also poured over the dish at the table and this was an incredibly rich and flavorful dish, with some of the most tender meat I’ve ever tasted. A bit was served on the bone, but the slices of short rib were out of this world.


This was a dish not to be missed.


At this point we were basking in delicious nomming glory but we couldn’t stop there!  The desserts just sounded so interesting and were listed without much description but with simply the most forward flavor of the dish.


We also ordered a dessert Vouvray (Vouvray is our favorite white wine)


But out came a madeira… which was poured for us before we had a chance to interrupt and ask if this was correct. Turns out it was not, as expected, but the lovely sommelier topped us off and we got to enjoy this awesome dessert drink on the house while waiting for the Vouvray.


We chose the blueberry dish which came with crispy poppyseed flavors, fresh (and superbly delicious) blueberries, and a tea flavored ice cream.  This was beautiful and tasty.  A very fresh, very summery dessert.



Then we each got the selection of 3 dessert tastes:

Frozen Chocolate Stout Macarons (A very nice balance of flavors, though the macarons were bit dense)
Pink Peppercorn Caramel Chews (A curious and quite good flavor and texture combination)
Dried Cherry & Pistachio Divinity (Awesome… awesome awesome awesome.  A great combination of salty and sweet.)


What a meal!

This was a masterpiece.  It easily rivaled many tasting menus we have had and I might have to put it right in line with Ai Fiori, our current #10 spot holder on the all-time Top 10 list.

The service was spectacular, attentive, and friendly.  It wasn’t at all stuffy and they really cared about how much we enjoyed the food.

It was obvious that the chef is thinking critically about his dishes and doesn’t put anything on the plate just for the sake of putting it there. Flavors are expertly combined and the plating is beautifully crafted. The only miss was the weird tomato snow, but some dishes I couldn’t find a single fault with. If this is how good they are just 3 weeks in, I can’t imagine how good they will be as they find their sea legs.

Total Nom Points: 8.5 out of 10 (we struggled about giving this an 8.5 or a 9, but it is definitely in line with Ai Fiori so we need to keep some consistency around this Nom joint)

nomscale- 08.5

Bouchon – Time Warner Center (And our adventure in getting a French Laundry reservation!)

30 Apr

We were on a shopping adventure this past weekend and it took us to The Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle. (For you non-natives, The Time Warner Center is right on the Southwest corner of Central Park, on 59th Street at the convergence of 8th Ave/Central Park West and Broadway. It is filled with mostly higher end stores and the entire basement is occupied by a Whole Foods).  There are a number of amazing restaurants there, including A Voce, Landmarc, and one of the top 3 on our Bucket List, Per Se.  (The other two on top are The French Laundry in Napa Valley and Alinea in Chicago… funny enough, both The French Laundry and Per Se are from Chef Thomas Keller, and Alinea is from Chef Grant Achatz, who worked for Thomas Keller at The French Laundry… and who also wrote the amazing book, Life, On The Line about his struggle with tongue cancer, but somehow as intriguing, his desire to push the food world into the future).

Now a funny sequence of events… we had spent the previous 2 days dialing and redialing The French Laundry with the hope of securing a reservation for our honeymoon. Yes, our honeymoon 2 months from now. But the rule of The French Laundry is that you can only get a reservation by calling 2 months prior to the date you want, on the date (so on the 28th of April for the 28th of June).  We will be in the area for three days on our honeymoon (June 26-28) and we had spent our lunches for the past 2 days dialing in vain.   On the 26th they told us that they have a private party on June 26th so no reservations were available, on the 27th we got in after an hour of dialing, but all the reservations were gone (so we went on the wait list). With the 28th being our last shot, we pulled out all the stops. We booked a hotel in the area and then called to speak with the hotel concierge… of which there was none but there was a man there who offered to help us… by Googling The French Laundry for us (um… no).  We called our credit card concierges and I convinced my Chase Sapphire Preferred to call on our behalf the following day. I even contacted a few well connected friends to see if they happened to have Thomas Keller in their rolodex.  (Alas, no).

So on this day that we set off on our shopping adventure, I suggested we grab a bite to eat and a coffee at Bouchon, which is right in the Time Warner Center.  We realized that we would have to make it a quick one so we could start calling The French Laundry at 12:45 (15 minutes before they officially open their lines at 1pm EST/10am PST… we were hopeful that our starting early would earn us some points in the… um… phone universe?)

Bouchon has a to-go window, but we decided to sit in their cafe and hoped to have a quick pastry and coffee. We sat down and realized that they actually served a full breakfast menu (yet no pastries… hmmm), so rather than croissants and coffee, we wound up with breakfast cocktails and full meals, plus the coffee.

And just a few minutes after sitting down it dawned on me… Bouchon is part of the Thomas Keller empire. On the day revolving around getting a reservation at the very restaurant that made this chef famous, we sat down at his casual cafe.  Hopefully that would be a good omen.


Mike got a cobb salad, which was filled with incredibly fresh ingredients.  It was a very good cobb salad and the bacon was especially delectable.


I got the Quiche of the Day, which was a Florentine (spinach and gruyere) and a side salad. The salad greens were very nicely dressed. The quiche was very good and was pretty soft (which I happen to like) with a nice crust. Best quiche I’ve ever had? No… but certainly very tasty and a nice, satiating meal to start our full day of walking all over the Upper West Side. (And to get us fueled up for aggressive phone dialing!)


As our meal wrapped up and we got the bill, my alarm went off alerting us that it was 12:45. Time to start calling.

We browsed through the Time Warner Center for the next 15 minutes before getting “serious” and finding a bench in Central Park to focus on dialing and redialing.

When it was around 20 after one, I noticed I had received a voice message in between all my dialing.  I switched over (concerned about losing precious redialing seconds) and found it was my Visa concierge… calling to tell me that they hadn’t gotten the reservation but they could put me on the wait list if I wanted.

I was defeated. If Visa had called me, surely they had gotten through and found all the reservations gone. (Though why they wouldn’t automatically put me on the wait list I didn’t understand… just add my name to the list and call back to remove it later if I don’t want it… come on now).  I continued to dial and redial, deciding that I would eventually get through and put my name on that wait list.  Mike continued to furiously call as well… but we were disheartened.

Then 5 minutes later, I got the recording… the magic recording that is only slightly better than a busy signal… It says something about the reservations being open 2 months to the day prior and blah blah blah… Press 3 for a reservationist. So you press 3 and you wait… and wait… and wait… hearing a lovely recording telling you that all reservationists are busy but they will be with you soon… and you wait… and you pray. And you hope that when they pick up that they will not tell you that all reservations are totally gone (like the day before) or that they were closed for a private event (like 2 days before).

After a solid 5 minutes, the reservationist picked up and asks how she could help me. I refrained from screaming that we had been hearing busy signals for 45 minutes (plus all the busy signals and disappointment of the prior 2 days) and we now just needed to know ARE THERE ANY RESERVATIONS LEFT?!?!  So she goes through the whole dog and pony…

“What date are you interested in?”

“June 28th” (why else would I be calling with such fury on April 28th?)

“How many in your party?”

“Two” (but I will beg and/or pay and/or force people to join us if all you have left is a 4-top!)


(You’re killing me lady!!!)

“We don’t have anything left for dinner…”

(She said dinner… but she didn’t say lunch… tell me about lunch dammit… TELL ME ABOUT LUNCH!)



“We only have 11am for lunch that day. Is that okay?”

(WELL OF COURSE THAT’S OKAY! I’d take 3am if you had it!)

“Yes. That would be great.”

So there you have it… after the most epic reservation system (well… maybe Momofuku Ko was close, but that didn’t feel so dire since we live in NYC, so we weren’t under a time crunch of having to secure the reservation during the only three days we would be in town), we GOT IN!  I actually screamed and jumped up and down in Central Park after we hung up the phone.

Though I must say, Visa Concierge… your lack of tenacity has been NOTED. (But pretty awesome they would devote someone to dialing and redialing for us!)

We’ll have to tell you more about it when we return from 2 weeks of eating and drinking our faces off as we road trip from Seattle through Portland and California Wine Country (specifically Russian River Valley since we love their wines so much) at the end of June…


Oh right… I was writing about Bouchon!

So Bouchon is a great place to stop for a bite if you’re in the area or finding yourself famished in Columbus Circle. I think it’s a really lovely place for tourists to stop during a day of shopping and Central Park hopping.  We were in and out within 45 minutes and our meal was very satisfying.

Total Nom Points: 7 out of 10

nomscale- 07.0