If you want to visit Gramercy Tavern during the holidays, there are two ways to go about it: 1) You can plan ahead and be prepared to drop some serious coin or 2) Visit Gramercy's really nice-but-more casual front room called the "Tavern" (isn't it all a Tavern?). It has its own menu of small plates, mains, and desserts all prepared by the same chefs who cook the $100 tasting menus. Best of all, it's open all day and you don't need a reservation to get in. I tried two desserts from the Tavern last Sunday.
The part sweet, part savory Half Moon Ice Cream Sandwich ($9) is like a souped-up Klondike bar from heaven. There's no actual ice cream involved. Instead, it combines tangy frozen labneh in one half and a chocolate sorbet in the other. The cookies are made from shortbread baked with salt-cured black olives that cut the sweetness of the sorbet. Part of the sandwich is then dipped in a housemade magic shell and coated with crunchy cocoa nibs for added texture.
The frozen labneh gets its tanginess from the addition of a small amount of lemon juice, which give it a nice contrast to the sweeter chocolate elements of the dessert. As for the olives, their texture is reminiscent of dates, but they bring a pleasant saltiness all their own.
If you're not in the mood for some savory with your sweets, the Gramercy Tavern Cookie Plate ($9) is perfect for sharing. The plate features a selection of six of the best "cookies" you can imagine and is served on a rustic wooden farm tray along with a glass bottle of Battenkill Valley Creamery milk. My plate included a strawberry pistachio Linzer cookie, a peppermint Oreo-style sandwich cookie, a piece of date and orange rugelach, a molten chocolate chip cookie, a chocolate "crackle" cookie, and a pear and pink peppercorn macaron.
Every cookie seemed like it was fresh out of the oven; both chocolate cookies were still warm and oozing with dark chocolate when I received them. The crackle cookie is like a tiny flourless chocolate cake made with 72% Guittard chocolate and Valrhona cocoa powder. The Rugelach is made with a cream cheese shortbread crust, but it was flaky and buttery enough to make me think it was made from puff pastry. The macaron's texture was perfect—slightly soft but with a noticeable crust. It would fit right in on the shelves of the best macaron shops in New York.
Even though the plate only includes two chocolate cookies, they're so rich that you're compelled to reach for the ice cold milk jug around your second bite. At less than $1.50 a cookie—including the milk—this cookie plate is a steal. See more of the desserts from the main dining room and learn a bit about Executive Pastry Chef Miro Uskokovic in our first look from two weeks ago.
About the author: Native New Yorker Niko Triantafillou is the founder of DessertBuzz.com his photographs of desserts and pastry chefs have appeared in the Wall Street Journal and Dessert Professional Magazine. He is an unabashed foodie nerdling. Follow him on Twitter at @DessertBuzz.