Gramercy Tavern is a New York institution. I love its well-executed food, it’s high level of service, and it’s cozy atmosphere just as much as anyone. However, when I first bought their cookbook a few years back, I was disappointed because there wasn’t very much I actually wanted to cook from it. Objectively, the book was great; it was just a matter of personal preference. However, I recently revisited the book on a summer weekend afternoon, and found that my tastes had apparently changed. Suddenly, there was a wealth of dishes here that I couldn’t wait to make myself. Since it was warm, sunny, and because I love raw fish and cucumbers, the arctic char in cucumber broth was where I decided to start.
This dish, as polished as it looks in the cookbook, is not particularly difficult to make. The hard part, in fact, is finding the very best ingredients so that the dish can really sing. To make things easy, the only ingredient here that wasn’t a cinch to find was the shiro dashi, a soup base made from white soy sauce and dashi. Luckily, in New York we have no shortage of Japanese grocery stores, so I headed over to what is, perhaps, its best one — Sunrise Market in the East Village. I went to grad school around the corner at NYU, so being here definitely brought back memories. And, since the Union Square farmers market is just a few blocks north, I headed there afterwards to the pick up the produce I needed for the dish.
While the recipe doesn’t specify the types of cucumbers that should be used, its accompanying photo clearly shows at least two varieties, including the hard-to-find Sandita, or, as gringos call them, Mexican Sour Gherkins. These cute little guys look like tiny watermelons but are actually mini cucumbers that have a tangy pop to them. While at the market, I also picked up nasturtium flowers to garnish the dish. These petals are not only pretty, but also have a nice, spicy kick.
20 minutes later, I was back in Brooklyn, getting off the 4 train at Borough Hall. Since, I was just a few short blocks from Fish Tales, a fish market in Cobble Hill with very high quality fish, I stopped by to pick up some arctic char. Struggling to carry all of my bags in the mid-day heat, I made my way home praying that I left my AC on.
As soon as I stepped inside, I put down my numerous bags, cooled down by the AC — I left it on — and got to work. I began with the marinade. As I said, with a dish like this quality ingredients are essential, and that’s particularly true with the oil and vinegar. I’ve written about by favorite vinegar brand and the amazing Oliviers & Co. olive oil in the past, but here I would like to call special attention to the Croatian variety I chose. Croatia is a little off-the-radar when it comes to olive oil, but when I sampled this in store, I knew it would perfect for dishes that require a light, delicate, and nuanced touch.
The marinade was simple to make, but since shiro dashi has a strong taste of katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes), which some western palates can find off putting, I used slightly less than what was called for. I also used a bit more balsamic, as I really enjoy a nice punch of acidity with my food— especially raw fish.
What resulted was a beautiful plate of food that was equally delicious. My one regret is that I didn’t serve it with a spoon. The leftover broth on the bottom of the bowl was amazing, but I was the only one with enough chutzpah to lift up my bowl and scarf it down like cereal milk. I guess you can do that when it’s your house.