We’ve all heard the adage: You can’t change the wind, but you can adjust your sails. With the opening of Greenwich Tavern, chef Rafael Palomino adeptly tacked into more affordable and, perhaps, more popular waters. He literally changed course(s) by trading decadent foods like foie gras with arepas for a menu that includes fish and chips, rib-eye and white-bean chili. The revamped American comfort food restaurant serves the same-caliber meals and has the same generous service in the same chic atmosphere as its predecessor.
While favorite menu items like sliders and ceviche seem down-to-earth, the preparation and presentation reflect the chef’s artistic talent. Ceviche, served in a tall metal cocktail glass, is a luscious mix of bay scallops, shrimp and avocado on a bed of charred tomato broth; mini burgers are recast as buffalo sliders topped with melted blue cheese and apples. Happily, several of Palomino’s signature dishes—like the hearty and flavorful short ribs with saffron mashed potatoes—remain on the menu.
On a recent Saturday night, every table was filled when we walked in at 7:30. Our table wasn’t ready right at 8:00, so we ordered the crispy calamari small plate to tide us over while waiting at the bar, which was bustling with people. Not only did the bartender bring out the calamari in a flash, he also treated us to a half pour of pinot grigio, a simple gesture that made us feel like welcome guests. Within ten minutes we were ushered to a table by the window in the main dining room.
The calamari is a prime example of how the chef adds his own spin: The lightly fried pieces of squid are dusted with chopped cashews and accompanied by a tangy chipotle tomato sauce. Other small plates were equally enticing: tuna tartare is lovely and light, diced in small pieces with a slather of avocado resting on a bed of cucumbers with two crouton sticks mounted like towers.
Mussels come adorned with pieces of sausage and topped with a few frites, a quirky touch. The broth filled only the bottom few inches of the bowl, which made the first few mussels on top slightly dry; once we reached the broth, they were outstanding. Zesty crab cakes are paired with a side salad of jicama and black beans in a vinegary dressing—an apt counterpoint to the flaky crabmeat.
The duck was my favorite entrée. Tender medium-rare slices in a fruity sauce laced with dried cherries and tart pomegranate juice are partnered with sweet-potato mash crowned with a nest of crispy sweet-potato frites. Factor in the bitter greens on the plate, and the entrée has the ultimate balance of flavors.
On the seafood front, we ordered the lobster and scallop scampi, which comes on a bed of fettuccini with baby tomatoes. It was lemony and garlicky but not too heavy. My husband found it a tad lean on the shellfish, but he also has a hefty appetite. Equally tasty and intriguing was a bronzino special; the fish was lightly fried with a crawfish hash on the side.
The tavern’s American influence is front and center on the dessert menu. Who can resist homemade donut holes with bourbon sauce, hot, crispy and sugary? Or a trio of homemade maple sugar, chocolate and vanilla gelati, all intensely flavorful and creamy? When shared, these were a perfect cap to a meal that left us looking forward to our next visit.
Want to try a recipe from Greenwich Tavern?
1392 Putnam Avenue
Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m.
Mon.–Wed. 5–10 p.m.;
Thu.–Sat. 5–11 p.m.
Sun. 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m.; 5–10 p.m.