It's been a little over a year since my farewell to Apps Only, a post which doubled as a guide to budget fine dining. I'm happy to report that I'm now returning to my old beat, and I'll be here filing bi-weekly reports on where you might eat at restaurants that would otherwise be wildly out of your price range.
Where better to start than Gramercy Tavern, a restaurant with a bar menu so good that they devoted an entire satellite dining room to it? The restaurant is broken up into two sections: the dining room and the tavern room, each with their own separate menus.
While there are plenty of tables in the Tavern Room, try to get a seat at the bar, because the bar nuts at Gramercy Tavern are worth the price of admission alone (this may require arriving early or waiting for a coveted bar seat). Warmly spicy and a bit sweet, for me these are the platonic ideal of bar nuts, plenty spicy but robust with plenty of cumin and enough heat to keep things interesting. If you do find yourself at a table, don't hesitate to ask your waiter for some of these nuts—they'll happily comply.
The kitchen split our order of Duck Toast, Spring Greens, and Toasted Almonds ($12), so what you see here is half of a portion. In most dishes of this makeup—rich duck rillettes piled high on buttery toast—the salad would take a backseat, but here the greens nearly showed up the duck. Coated in a lightly sweet vinaigrette that let the fresh spring greens shine, they were topped with toasted sliced almonds for a bit of texture and dates that paired nicely with the duck. Of course, the duck didn't let me down—generously applied to the crispy toast, it was creamy and rich without being heavy, and unwavering in its duckiness.
For Baked Long Island Clams ($14), three Topneck clams are steamed with white wine, removed from their shells, minced and mixed with scallops, breadcrumbs, aromatics and plenty of butter, then returned to their shells, topped with more buttery breadcrumbs, and roasted in the Tavern's wood fire grill until perfectly golden. Generally I don't like my clams messed with too much, but here I'm happy to make an exception. These are like the best baked stuffed clams you'll ever taste, highlighting the incredible sweetness of the mollusks.
There's no getting around the fact that Gramercy Tavern is a pricey establishment, but to my mind it's also one of the best values in the city. We spent $26 before tax and tip, and between our two dishes, bread course, and bar nuts (two bowls, all told) we left pleasantly full. Sure, it was a light meal, but that's fine by me. For under thirty bucks at this level of quality, I'd go so far as to call it a bargain.
About the author: Ben Fishner is currently planning his next meal. In addition to contributing to Serious Eats and working at SEHQ on various technical projects, he blogs at Ben Cooks Everything. Follow him on Twitter at @fozziebayer, won't you?