Gem, NYC

January 8, 2019

Flynn McGarry was running a restaurant from the Los Angeles home of his parents at age 13. He kept this up for six years and also staged and learned in the kitchens of several top echelon restaurants. He opened his own restaurant, Gem, in early 2018 in the north end of Chinatown.  Linda and I went for dinner on December 7, 2018, two weeks after the chef’s twentieth birthday.

Gem is legally owned by his older sister, since he’s not old enough to procure a liquor license. He has a few financial backers, but the space is quite modest. The small kitchen opens onto the end of the dining room.

These are views from my seat. The chef is very active. He is the second from the right in the first photo. He cooks and serves, but often stands beside the kitchen checking the pace of things. He gives few instructions to his lively young staff during the course of the meal. They already know what to do.  

There is no menu and there are no food choices.  The sixteen diners in each of two sittings per evening are all served the same meal. At the end we were given a listing of the courses we had been served, from which the short titles below come. 

On arriving, we were offered glasses of sparkling red lambrusco: refreshing.  One can choose to have wine pairings or to order from the interesting, eclectic, limited wine list. We selected a bottle of 2015 Château de Béru, Côte aux Prêtres, Chablis.

A good match with the cuisine. 

Our first course was
Citrus chawanmushi with smoked trout roe.

The trout row were good and crunchy; popping in the mouth. It was nicely offset by its light smokiness and the lemon in the custard.

Peconic Bay scallops
fresh cheese and fig leaf oil
unripe ahi, dolce peppers, pine and radish.

We were in the short season of Peconic Bay scallops from the North Fork of Long Island. They had the same lovely sweetness as Nantucket Bay scallops. They did not need so much garnish, but it did not hide their flavor.

King crab potatoes with chamomile, leeks and rose.

While I enjoyed the good crab flavor, I could not figure out how this dish was made. Fortunately Pete Wells described it his review of Gem:

“a morsel or two of grilled king crab legs lightly glazed with rose petal miso and set beside soft chamomile-scented potatoes for ballast, red currants for zing and some fluttering rose petals on top for the heck of it.”

Swiss chard and caramelized onion tortellini in brodo.

Caramelized onion purée was wrapped in chard leaves and poached in a squash broth.

Roasted cabbage with oyster and kale emulsion.

The roasted cabbage chunk was topped with a kale leaf and dressed with sort of a kale and oyster mayonnaise.

Salt-baked sweet potato with cured tuna and hollandaise.

The small sweet potatoes were served with greens and tuna strips on top of hollandaise. Excellent.

Roasted pumpkin with mornay and black pepper.

The server presented a roasted half-pumpkin and put a scoop on top of béchamel with cheese. Good autumnal flavors.

Radishes with pumpkin seed mole
chickenskin and snails

The combination worked.

The chef spooned sauce onto Linda’s celery root. 

Celery root au vin,

Celery root was prepared three ways: braised in red wine, puréed and chips. Nice.

Having finished our Chablis, we were served glasses of
2016 Maranges Les Clos Roussots red Burgundy.

Duck glazed in huckleberry

huckleberry sauce
skewer of duck hearts with olives and cherries

croquet duck legs with matsutake and sage
rye bread chip with duck liver mousse, coffee and pears

hay broth

salted duck breast with pine powder and pickled ramps

The duck was luscious and good. The various derivations all added interest. An excellent finish to the savory courses.

quince tarte tatin

The puff pastry underneath was well done. The crème fraîche was made in house. Excellent. 

ice cream with caramel

We congratulated the chef on our excellent meal. It was obvious all evening that he was having a very good time. His energy level was high even though he had undoubtedly been working since his morning shopping. And he still had another sitting to go this evening. While the staff is young, they are not as young as he is, but there was no question of who is in charge.

It is not evident in my photos and brief descriptions above, but we felt that we were dining at one of New York’s better restaurants. I would not argue if Michelin gave it two stars. We will certainly return. 

To read an article about Flynn’s background click here.

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