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A Sneak Peek Inside the New Tavern on the Green

By Roger Kamholz
January 8, 2014

Countless New Yorkers are eagerly anticipating the return of Tavern on the Green. The iconic Central Park restaurant and event hall has been shuttered for more than four years , but the renovation process has recently gone into high gear. The Tavern's current operators, Jim Caiola and David Salama of the Emerald Green Group - restaurateurs behind the bistro Beau Monde in Philadelphia - are tentatively planning to launch a preview menu on February 6 - and are aiming for a full opening in April.  Along with executive chef Katy Sparks (formerly of Quilty's), Caiola recently gave Zagat a sneak peek at the reconceived Tavern on the Green. Read on for more. 

  • A Work in Progress

    Caiola and Salama's vision for the new Tavern hinges on what Caiola calls "different facets of usage." There will be, of course, the main dining room, but also a bar room, spaces available for private events and even a new takeout window. 

    The most notable and noticeable changes to the historic space is the venue's considerable slim-down. (At its most sprawling, it was reportedly 25,000 square feet in size.) The city dismantled the glass enclosure that once defined the old Crystal Room in favor of a more modest one, and gone is the annex of staff changing rooms that once extended from the original brick-faced structure toward Central Park West. What's left is a smaller footprint, but also clearest look at the building's original and classic architecture in more than 40 years.

  • The Bar Room

    Guests who arrive to dine or drink at Tavern will enter through the north entrance, where a red awning will be installed much like the restaurant had in years past. (The north entrance will also regain a circular driveway so cars can drop off visitors.) The space is highlighted by a new fireplace at the far end, as well as a grand, 27-seat, wood-paneled circular bar (decorated with the detailing shown here). Along the circular perimeter of the Bar Room will run a long banquet, able to accommodate 46. While the bar stools and other seating will be open, the banquets will be reservable. In summer, additional bar seating will extend out onto the Tavern's main courtyard, bringing the capacity up to 125.

  • Under Glass

    The space formerly known as the Tavern's Crystal Room - what will become the new Tavern's main dining room - has been reduced in size after the old Tavern's more expansive glass enclosure was stripped away. (Nevertheless, the new main dining room is still expected to host roughly 135 people.) The city has spent millions on certain aspects of the Tavern's reconstruction, and among its contributions is the new, frameless glass enclosure seen here, which will allow guests in the main dining room to look out on the Tavern's main courtyard and the park beyond. "It's a great place to be, because not only are you in natural light during the day and [under] stars at night, but you can see this amazing building, which, again, has not been revealed since 40 years ago," Caiola says. "The openness of the park and the Sheep Meadow is what this whole area focuses on."

  • The Open Kitchen

    Partners Caiola and Salama brought on chef Katy Sparks to run the kitchen. Sparks's early involvement in the project allowed her to shape the kitchen around her cooking style as well as to meet the demands of a high-volume dining venue. "The mission was to feed 700 people - we can seat 700 when we're open outside," Sparks explains. "It became a problem to be solved, because there's only a finite amount of space here in the kitchen. There's no downstairs prep kitchen, no other room." A row of high-powered Jade Range grills and griddles flank the aisle crossing the dining room's western side. "When you're walking through, you're going to be seeing flames over to your right," Caiola says. "There will be a lot of drama."

    One of the main influences on the menu will be the open-flame cooking of Buenos Aires - so she's stocked the kitchen with heavy-gauge grill grates and griddle surfaces composed of inch-thick steel. "It'll give me a beautiful finish," Sparks says of the equipment. "Part of the reason I cook is I love flame and immediacy and the alchemy of how heat changes textures and flavors." Dishes will be executed swiftly to order. "No more than an eight-minute pick-up on anything," she adds. "It's just a lot of immediate cooking, it's not tricky garnishes and playing with things with your hands. It's great raw materials, interestingly combined, but really simple. The sourcing is the biggest part."

    Two gas-fired, hearth-style ovens bookend the front grill area. "We'll be able to put fruit wood in them for flavor profiles," Sparks says. "One season it might be applewood, another season it might be cherry or hickory." What might be hearth-cooked? Mussels, clams, cod in a cazuela, a duck breast over farro - "anything that will benefit from that kind of heat," she says. To round out its offerings, the new Tavern will also be tapping local purveyors like Mast Brothers (chocolate) and Hot Bread Kitchen (baked goods). "Our purchasing power will help them keep expanding their business," Sparks says.

  • The South Wing

    Off the main dining room and opposite the Bar Room lies the Tavern's south wing. The 130-person-capacity, multi-purpose space will be used for both à la carte dining and private events. Much like in the Bar Room, the structure's timber rafters have been left exposed and the underside of the A-frame roof has been lined with patterned paneling. The south wing includes a service bar as well as a small kitchen that will provide concessions for a takeout window that's accessible to park-goers who walk up to the Tavern's adjoining south terrace. By day, it will offer open seating to customers at the take-out window, which will serve food, hot and cold drinks and a full bar. 

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Places Mentioned

Creperie Beau Monde & L'Etage

French • Bella Vista

Food23 Decor23 Service21 Cost$30
 
 
 
 
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