Back to the Tavern

| 17 Feb 2015 | 01:05

Central Park's famous eatery reopens with a new and welcome twist

Upper West Side Four years ago, Tavern on the Green closed its beloved doors and the city proceeded to smash it to bits. Last Thursday, the dust finally settled on the extensive, $28 million renovation, revealing a refreshing update on a modern classic.

On its first night back in business, under the purview of restaurateur partners David Salama and Jim Caiola, the dining rooms were filled with the buzz of guests from the neighborhood, around the five boroughs, and the world. The sparkling new Tavern on the Green welcomes all through its doors ? while the three dining rooms' 345 indoor seats are booked solid for the next several months, diners can stroll through the park and score a spot at the circular bar, with access to the kitchen's full menu, any time.

Gone is the fusty, exclusive atmosphere and the infamously boring food. The small plates ($9-18), while delectable, are tiny, and only big enough to share with one other person. But who wouldn't want to share, for example, the Serrano ham, cave-aged Gruyere and sage toast with anchovy-caper sauce ($18) which is a long-winded way to describe a sophisticated, grown-up version of the best grilled ham-and-cheese sandwich ever, or the delicate and savory trio of local sea scallops with citrus butter, fried shallots and capers ($16).

The large plates ($18-$54) are proportionately large, and chef Katy Sparks applies the same attention to detail to the entrée-sized dishes as to the small ones, using familiar ingredients in inventive ways while still letting good food speak for itself. The burger ($18), for example, is described simply as grass-fed beef, and accoutrements like sharp cheddar, bacon or red onion marmalade are extra add-ons. There is no question as to how the diner would like it cooked, and no offering of ketchup when it arrives, and neither are needed.

Staples like roasted chicken, pork chops and salmon round out the menu. The desserts push surprising vegetables into the spotlight, like the red velvet cake featuring roasted beets ($11) or the outstanding ricotta cheesecake with shaved fresh fennel and orange gracing the top ($11).

The service is friendly, open and impeccable, as is the décor. The cocktail menu features drinks named for each of the five boroughs, and aside from being rather tasty, they indicate the new direction of Tavern on the Green. Like the city, it may be a little too pricy for some, but if you can make it work, even for a glass of wine at the bar or ice cream sandwich from the soon-to-be-opened takeaway window, the place will welcome you, and you'll be glad to be there.