Summer is all about blockbusters and this year marks the return of a gargantuan beast to Central Park. No I am not talking about Godzilla, I am talking about the venerable Tavern on the Green. The monstrous restaurant located near the Southeast corner of Central Park has now re-opened in all it's magnificent glory. But what is this? Gone are the huge chandeliers, both clear and green, that I thought could drop on my head at any moment. Gone are the stained glass monolith light fixtures and all the "cheesy" other accouterments that plagued the last iteration of the Tavern. In their place is a new, sleeker Tavern with an understated elegance courtesy of Jim Caiola and David Salama.
As I walked in I was greeted by a dapper doorman looking like he just dismounted a horse carriage. To the left was a small gift shop and coat check just beyond that. Then the host stand which led into the bar area. And what a beautiful bar it is. Dominated by a circular bar crowned with a rotating carousel chandelier. There are couches and chairs throughout the bar to lounge in, get comfortable on and cozy up to a drink.
The first dining room, which was like dining in the Apple Store Glass cube, is dominated by the huge open kitchen. There is a feel of a French brasserie with tiled walls, banquette seating and the energy from the open kitchen spilling into the dining room. All of this adds to the vibrant feel of the room yet it is still relaxed and comfortable for the diner. I saw both couples celebrating a special occasion and families dining. Conversations were manageable with noise level and for just opening for a few weeks service was fairly prompt and very friendly.
When you first look at the menu you notice that it is not broken up like typical restaurants listing Appetizers followed by Main Course dishes. Tavern's menu is instead categorized by preparation method with small and large plate options under each: Salads, Chilled Seafood, Ceviches, The Hearth(oven), The Grill and The Plancha (flat top). The menu, by Chef Katy Sparks, focuses on sourcing local ingredients and presenting in familiar yet creative dishes.
I decided to go surf and turf starting with some fish. The Trio of Ceviches was a pretty plate with fanned out slices of fish served three different ways. The Salmon and avacado, a classic combination, was good but it was the Tuna with garlic chips and the scallop with the lime and ginger that really stood out to me. For the main course I tried Braised Lamb Shank from the Hearth menu. The meat literally fell off the bone as the plate was placed in front of me. Served with a gremolata, raisins and the vegetable of the moment, cauliflower, this was a cozy and stick to your bones type of dish. I do wonder if this will stay on the menu during the warm summer months. I also tried the Marinated Quail from the Plancha menu served with some fantastic grits with bits of chorizo and grapes. These quails were succulent and tasty. Despite quail being sometimes hard to eat with those tiny little bones, I would definitely order this again. Dessert was was a dense Ricotta Cheesecake with my favorite part being the black sesame tuile.
There are two additional dining rooms which have more of an enclosed feel surrounded by the wood walls. These felt more like a dining room in the classic sense. There is also going to be a small "Green To Go" area that will have small breakfast items and drinks to consume in a small outdoor cafe area. The main outdoor area was closed during dinner service when I was there, but there was a large outdoor bar and plenty of seats. I imagine this will be a quite popular destination during beautiful summer days and evenings.
I am really excited about where this is going and that this has re-opened for everyone to enjoy. This is such a great space and location and the new owners have done some great things with this. I can only see this getting better and I hope to go many more times in the future.