Monday, 3 August 2009

The Tavern on the Green


I have always wanted to dine at the iconic Tavern on the Green on the West side of Central Park. Since it first opened in 1934, Tavern on the Green has been an integral part of the social history of New York City. It closed briefly in the 1970’s, only to re-open in 1976, transformed into a glittering palace of glass and mirrors. Since then it has been at the heart of New York social life, and has hosted many celebrity guests as well as Broadway and film premiere parties.

We decided to go for lunch last Friday afternoon. I was excited to see the distinctive red awning when we arrived, having seen it so many times on television. Its simplicity belies this restaurant’s lavish interior. As you enter the restaurant, you walk through halls lined with hundreds of tiny mirrors into the beautiful dining room. The walls here are painted with pastel murals depicting birds and flowers. Crystal chandeliers sparkle overhead. The chairs are upholstered in lavish floral fabric, and the crisp tablecloths and napkins are perfect. It isn’t just the interior that is beautiful either. Through the glass walls of the conservatory, you look out on to gardens filled with flowers and topiary. Fabric lanterns hang in the trees and on wires over the courtyard. It’s easy to see why the elite of New York and Hollywood hold celebrations and premieres here.

The menu is incredibly diverse and offers plenty of choice and price points. There was a set lunch of three courses at around twenty-five dollars in honor of New York Restaurant Week and another at thirty-nine dollars, in addition to an excellent a la carte menu. The wine list also had selections at every price point, from the very reasonable Rose Row house wines priced at thirty-six dollars a bottle through to mid priced wines and of course, the extremely expensive. It’s the most accessible iconic restaurant I have ever visited.

We tasted all ends of the menu - my son ordered from the twenty-five dollar set menu, my husband from the thirty-nine dollar set menu and I ordered from the a la carte selection. We chose a Merlot from the Rose Row selection to accompany our meal. I like to try a restaurant’s house wine as I believe it is integral for every restaurant to have good, reasonably priced red and white wine on their wine list. It’s easy to choose a good expensive wine, but not necessarily as easy to choose one that suits most pockets. In my opinion it’s a mark of the skill of the Sommelier and the respect a restaurant holds for all its clients if they offer good wine that does not cost the earth. It’s worth pointing out here that Tavern on the Green actually offered a choice of not one, but two house reds (Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon) and two house whites (Chardonnay and Voignier).

We all enjoyed our lunches. My husband and I both started with a delightful lobster bisque which was beautifully presented and full of good size pieces of lobster. My son had the iceberg lettuce wedge which he found unremarkable, but frankly there is not much you can do with a wedge of lettuce so it is hard to fault them for that! For main course, I had a tender and delicious grilled filet mignon flat iron steak served with a basil balsamic chimichurri. It was accompanied by tempting garlic butter French fries and a light salad of cucumber, tomato and Bermuda onion. It all tasted just as good as it sounds! Both my husband and son had Porterhouse burgers served with bacon and cheese, and both said they were wonderful. The Rose Row Merlot tasted delicious with our beef dishes, and was quite a remarkable wine for its very reasonable price.

There were lots of tempting desserts on offer (although I had more choice as I had ordered a la carte). Once again, my husband and son chose the same thing - crème brulée served with an almond tuile. I was allowed to taste - in fact my husband gave me his whole almond tuile - and both the biscuit and the crème brulée were utterly scrumptious. I had chosen Strawberry Shortcake, which I also shared, and which was equally delicious. Fresh strawberries were nestled into a feather-light shortcake and topped with whipped cream. It was the perfect dessert for a summer day.

I was really impressed by Tavern on the Green. Although our meal was expensive for lunch at about seventy-five dollars a head, this included drinks and tips. Also we had worked our way right through the menu and we had wine (not something I normally order with lunch). You could potentially have chosen from the set menus at twenty-five to forty dollars a head and just had the free ice water to drink with your meal. Plenty of people did and no one sniffed at them. Afternoon tea is priced at around thirty-five dollars, as is their Sunday Brunch, which sounds amazing. The dress code is business casual, but most folks were pretty casual. There were no ties on the gentlemen, and very few were wearing blazers. In fact, a lady sitting at the table next to us was wearing shorts and no one batted an eyelid, although I must confess I would never dream of wearing shorts to a restaurant like this!

So, for an icon, Tavern on the Green really is very accessible. Although it was definitely busy and full, we never felt crowded. The service was impeccable, discreet yet very friendly, and both the food and the atmosphere are second to none. I highly recommend a visit to this glamorous venue.

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