Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Bits & Morsels

Tuna Tartare at Pera Soho.

by Erin Frankel

SoHo has been saturated with Haute restaurants for years. And year after year, the neighborhood is hallowed with hot up-and-coming chefs and their trend-setting cuisine. Add Pera Soho to the list. This is the second outpost for the midtown Mediterranean favorite, Pera Brasserie. Now, Ryan Skeen, arguably the most nomadic chef (having had stints at Fishtag, Allen & Delancey, Irving Mill, and 5 & Diamond), is taking a crack at upscale Mediterranean cuisine (Turkish-inspired to be more exact). The dimly candlelit 5,500-square-foot indoor and outdoor space is sleek and elegant, with lustrous modern decor and beautiful, bold mosaics.

Fans of the midtown Pera location will be happy to know that many of their favorites have made its way to the downtown location; the selection of mezes (including the tasty warm hummus with pastirma and the smoked eggplant with garlic yogurt), the grilled prawns with coco beans and parsnip ragout, and the spiced chicken and lamb adana rolls, to name a few.
White bean dip and olive oil.
Skeen has also elevated some Turkish staples, like the light and tasty tuna tartare and tabouleh with jalapeno peppers, tomato confit and smoked eggplant, and the kale salad with lobster, octopus, smoked almonds, red onion and bell peppers. Like most of the food here, the desserts (currently not on the menu) have humble roots. The chocolate caramel souffle topped with Turkish pistachio bits and light syrup, and a selection of hot, chewy chocolate chip and caramel cookies made the table very happy.

Expect many surprises here as Skeen has already tweaked the menu in the short two weeks the restaurant has been open. He has modernized and further developed the Pera menu to match his vision. Let's hope he sticks around.

Pera Soho
54 Thompson Street
An assortment of meze dips at Pera Soho.
Kale Salad at Pera Soho.
Grilled prawns with coco beans at Pera Soho.
Spiced chicken and lamb adana rolls at Pera Soho.
Chocolate souffle at Pera Soho.
Gramercy Tavern, a true New York City classic, has been serving many of the same dishes for over a decade. The loyal regulars come back again and again for this consistency in quality and presentation. However, I'm one of the rare born-and-bred New Yorkers who had yet to experience a meal at this distinguished establishment.

If you have a laundry list of restaurant "to-dos" on your iPhone, you probably find the adored yet enduring institutions somehow get lost at the bottom of the list. Thankfully, I finally made Gramercy Tavern a priority.
Lunch at the Bar is also a great option.
Upon entering the Tavern, I was immediately impressed with how crowded the bar area was, and with an eclectic group of patrons. There were tourists hoping for a Danny Meyer sighting, an older clientele (who were very clearly the regulars), and young folk like us coming for an elegant libation and a first-rate meal. The restaurant focuses on seasonal classics with a twist (cocktails and food), so I decided to go with a cold weather-appropriate drink, the Fall Classic (and a great anti-oxidant drink). The mixture of Bulleit Bourbon, Greenmarket cider, calvados, lime, and lemon was vivid and very well-balanced; and kept me cozy and warm for dinner.

As you make your way to the table, you will notice the dining room, dimly lit with copper scones and candles, decorated with antiques, stacked piles of wood, beautiful floral arrangements, and vibrant farmhouse murals.
The dining room.
Onto the menu. Chef Michael Anthony has perfected the art of precision and technique while consistently evolving the flavors of the Tavern's classic American dishes. He clearly revels in a Greenmarket-driven sentimentality with seasonal touches to each dish. Anthony is carefully adventurous with the pristine, raw product he works with.

Favorites on Anthony's menu include lusty country-fare persuasions to traditional classics like the light ruby red shrimp over heirloom beans and pastoral brussels sprouts or the sweet squash custard with shitake mushrooms and aji peppers.
Sea Bass with Spaghetti Squash, Walnuts and Sherry Sauce.
You will also find simple elements in Anthony's entrees as in the sea bass, which is seasoned with walnuts and a delectable sherry sauce over a spaghetti squash or in the delicately roasted and braised lamb complemented with the seasonal pine nuts, bok choy, and squash, which makes the leap right into a snowy winter. Revel in the exquisite subtleties here, because even after 18 years, Gramercy Tavern remains ripe.

Gramercy Tavern

42 E 20th Street
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