This year, I had my Newyorkiversary celebration at Gabriel Kreuther. With a space right across the street from Bryant Park, GK would be my return to “Midtown Fancy” for the anniversary. But what does fancy even mean anymore? You can easily wear sneakers to Momofuku Ko or Blanca but easily pay more than you would at many of the more stiffer, starched tablecloth places uptown. With online reservation systems, anyone can secure a table anywhere (except maybe not at The Polo Bar), or at least I like to think so. Thus, it’s open season for eating where you want if you have the cash, even if your annual income is less than that of your server. The lingering attachment to saying fancy—real talk synonyms: expensive, snobby, prohibitive—might be in the perception (cool versus conservative) with respect to any number of aspects: decor, clientele, or style of food. But this begs the question, whose perception? That person who lives in my head and hints that I might not be worthy of such places. As I said recently to a friend, I’d bet my life on the fact that my farm-raised grandmother, who has always lived on the wrong side of the tracks, would be more impressed by the apparent ease with which I enter a place like GK than the university degrees that enabled me to get to this place and point in my life. Fancy means something to her, and it will always be hard for me to let that go.
Yet despite its white tablecloths, its perches for purses, or the army that takes care of you, Gabriel Kreuther is a comfortable environment that serves excellent Alsace-influenced food (remember Alsace-Lorraine from European history lessons?). Insecurities push me into feeling like the 99%-er in a room full of magnates, but the warmth from a staff member or the effect of a few sips of bubbles can make those feelings quickly disappear. And when I looked around the dining room from my ideal banquette seat or eavesdropped on patrons close to me, I only stood out for being alone, not because I was a tumbleweed who rolled in from Dirt City. Feeling insecure about eating somewhere fancy is the same as feeling insecure about dining alone: Get over it. Enjoy your dinner. No one is paying you any mind.
But enough about my mental health. The food…The standard dinner menu is a three-course prix fixe plus dessert. The savory menu is divided into four sections, of which you choose one dish from three of them. I have no immediate plans to return or become a regular, so in the spirit of #yolo, I paid a supplement to have one dish from each section. Up first was this sashimi (well, second, as the pretty multi-part amuse bouche is found on my Instagram). The fish was sliced thick enough to let me appreciate the taste of the cobia, yet thin enough to pick up the vinaigrette, which I thought was nice and bright and not too acidic. The dollop of uni was a treat, and the gelee provided the salty touch. For scale, the sweetbread is probably slightly smaller than a light bulb. I’ve never eaten one so large before. I was slightly nervous at first, as I learned to like sweetbreads because they reminded me a little of chicken nuggets. Interior tenderness is great, but I kind of avoid looking too closely at it. So, I was slightly (irrationally) worried that this interior might be, I don’t know, rare? More obviously like a gland? But there was nothing untoward about it. It was perfect. Cripsy/tender, sitting in a decadent rich gravy. Perhaps my favourite course.
One of the dishes that the chef, Gabriel Kreuther, brought to this restaurant from his previous position at The Modern was a caviar and sauerkraut tart that I could have chosen for this course instead. I have never been to The Modern, and I know it was was a much-loved dish. Some days I regret not trying it, and on others, I’m glad I stuck with having food that he’s making at this moment in this new endeavour.I didn’t know what mero was, and I don’t remember what my server told me. I think she said it was a flaky, mild whitefish. But meatier than cod. The magic in this dish was that under that cap of herb crust sat some plump mussels. The presentation did not translate perfectly to eating as you end up with a detached crust, mussels, and fish instead of something more harmonious as you work your way through. It all tasted good both individually and when taken together, but I thought it the weakest savoury course I chose. A thick piece of juicy, pink pork complemented by some sweet and savoury elements. The morcilla could have been more assertive, but the kitchen may have made that choice so as not to push those who may be fearful of blood. The bottom layer of that rectangle on the right was some sort of thick pear puree, which worked really nicely with the pork.
As two critics mentioned the cutlery, I couldn’t help but pay extra attention to it. Long and lean, they made you extra aware of your technique. I loved using them, but I think only because I aim soley to employ Continental style for eating. I think if you preferred American style, you might find them awkward and cumbersome as you made your switches.To be clear, critical praise led me to GK, but what sealed the deal was reading that there were three bread services. The first was the most eye catching, but I think my least favourite. As it’s too much like a muffin or cake, the kugelhoph’s texture is not my favourite. And because like a cake or muffin, the dough would have some sort of fat, it was a bit greasy. The creme fraiche is then an inspired choice as a topping because of its lightness, but I much prefer a yeasty, drier crumb where I can control the added fat. Thus, I obviously loved the more classic second service. But I really, really loved the last service. The roll was nutty and fragrant. The earthiness of the herb and grain went extremely well with the creamy, salty, and spiced pork fat. I want tubs of GK lardo to be made available in grocery stores soon.
I think I’ve said before that despite always wanting dessert, fancy desserts aren’t overly exciting to me. Give me a thick slice of pie over tuiles and quenelles. Thus, I chose the “classic” option that referenced a tarte tatin. It was good, not too sweet and well-portioned, but my ice cream particularities were obviously irked by the plating of ice cream on a plate. *BOWL*