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Report on Gramercy Tavern, Atlas and Local (long)

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Report on Gramercy Tavern, Atlas and Local (long)

Adam Stephanides | Jul 10, 2001 11:17 PM

I'd picked out three expensive places to go visit during my two-week trip to New York. The first was Gramercy Tavern, which I chose because after I'd left New York, what I found I regretted most food-wise was that I hadn't eaten there more. Perhaps it was because my expectations were so high, but I wound up being a bit disappointed. Not that it wasn't a very good meal, but it didn't knock me out like previous meals I'd eaten there had. The best thing I had at that meal the short ribs (half of a sirloin and short ribs dish). As my waitress had promised, they were meltingly tender. I wasn't that impressed with the sirloin, but the short ribs were good enough to make up for it. For an appetizer, I had the bacon-wrapped sweetbreads. They were good, but could have been more flavorful, I thought.

The second was Alain Ducasse, which I've already written about. The third was Atlas. As with Alain Ducasse, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. And you can call me a foodie, but I like to try unusual juxtapositions of food, just as I like to try the sort of "exotic" dishes that chowhounds seek out. In fact, my first meal at Atlas was the best meal of my trip.

The amuse bouche was a cube of clam jelly with a crayfish and "lilibo" soup (a cool sweetish soup), and very good. My appetizer was a bloc of foie gras and smoked eel with leeks and a thin white chocolate wafer. The combination of foie gras and white chocolate didn't work for me (though it's not as bizarre as it sounds, since both are mostly fat), but it was easy to set the wafer aside, and the rest was very nice.

Then came a between-courses palate cleanser, not on the menu. This was a dollop of apple-wasabi sorbet with a drop or two of banana-infused olive oil, served in an abalone shell. This was actually the highlight of the meal. I know this is the sort of thing all chowhounds are supposed to abhor, and I know that it's so over-the-top it sounds like a parody. But the combination of flavors and textures worked wonderfully.

My main course was a rognonnade of rabbit: rabbit loin wrapped in poached (I think; my notes aren't always as legible as they should be) sweet Maine shrimp. This was another memorable dish: the rabbit, perhaps because of the shrimp, was very tender and flavorful, far more so than any rabbit I've had previously (not that I've had it that often). It came with "croquant of radish, vanilla, beer/ginger jus."

Dessert was a mille-feuille of dulce de leche , with balsamic ice cream and hibuscus sauce: again very good.

I enjoyed this meal so much that I decided to go back a second time. In fact, I had to eat two dinners in one day to do so, since the only day available was the last day and I already had a dinner with a friend planned. As so often happens when I love a place on my first visit so much that I hurry back, the second meal wasn't as good as the first. Not that it was bad, but I wasn't enthusiastic about it like I had been about the first. This time the amuse bouche was avocado royale with avocado ice cream. This was another weird-sounding dish that worked: the avocado flavor was intense. For my appetizer I ordered (as my third choice, my first two being out (it was late at night)) langouste. Despite the cucumber-beet gelee that accompanied it, it was disappointingly pedestrian. Then the apple-wasabi sorbet as a palate cleanser again, just as good as the first visit. My main course was poularde chicken baked in a salt and hay crust. The chicken was very juicy and flavorful for white meat (which isn't my favorite). The accompaniment was red camurge rice, lychee and 'Rissole'. (It was written in single quotes like that on the menu. I have no idea why.) For dessert (again, my second choice after my first choice was out) I had black cardamom cake with date chiboust and green apple granita. While it was more restrained than I prefer my desserts to be, it was good.

I wound up going to one more expensive restaurant, though not for a whole meal: Local, in the Times Square area. I happened to be in the vicinity late at night and got the urge for something sweet, and recalled that the desserts there were supposed to be good. So I went there and ordered dessert. It was a "banana toffee dome," and was very good indeed, probably the best dessert I had on my trip (although the word "dome" made it sound larger than was the case). A nice touch was that with the check they brought me a plate of very good homemade cookies (iirc), even though I'd only ordered dessert.

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