Why go to America to eat posh French food? If in New York, skip the flash places with the condescending maitre d’s and come to Gramercy Tavern instead. Here you get honest to goodness American cooking, using excellent ingredients and sensible flavour combinations. The char-grill features heavily, and you can even get an excellent hamburger.
As a diner you need to be aware that there are two sections within this restaurant, the (relatively) formal restaurant and the “tavern”, which operates from a separate kitchen and does simpler food in a more casual setting. On weekend lunches only the tavern operates, and this is the food I tried on this visit. It was completely packed, and the five of us we were squeezed into a table that would have been tolerable for three.
Artichoke soup looked as it it might be a little watery but it was not, with good seasoning and plenty of artichoke flavour (15/20). Mushroom lasagne was pleasant, but no more than that (14/20) while the best dish was “pulled pork”, where the meat is manually pulled from the carcass, and turned out to be very tasty. Overall the tavern food was about 14/20 or so e.g. a pleasant but somewhat bland cassoulet. It is cheaper than the main dining room but it is also a notch or two down in the cooking level, so perhaps best to stick to the more formal area unless you are in the mood for something very simple.
In recent times (based on a meal in April 2004) the cooking has become more sophisticated, and I had a superb dish of scallops with perfectly tender baby carrots with a light salad and vinaigrette, followed by organic chicken with wild mushrooms and excellent roasted vegetables. These days there is even a respectable cheese board. Coffee is excellent here and the wine list ranges from simple to the very finest. A thoroughly likeable place, with friendly, efficient service and no pretension whatever.