For those who felt a pang of jealousy that local chef legend Jeremiah Tower had decided to make a comeback in the kitchen at age 72 in New York, at the also legendary Tavern on the Green, you can rest easy that you're not missing a lot just yet. The first reviews are in after Tower's takeover in November, including one today from the New York Times' Pete Wells, and while he really wanted to like the place, he said "the fun stops when the food arrives."
Wells begins by saying, "You can’t help hoping that Jeremiah Tower will rescue Tavern on the Green if you’ve ever seen a movie about an aging rogue coming out of retirement for one last heist, con, caper, battle, boxing match or, in this case, a 700-seat restaurant that combines certain qualities of each of those things." But he describes the New Orleans rock shrimp and crab meat soup with shrimp toasts, thusly: "The grayish-gold broth looked and tasted like won ton soup fortified with a few drops of iodine. The long shrimp toast laid over the surface became a soggy mush."
The Chronicle's Michael Bauer also couldn't resist the curiosity and went to New York to check the place out, and while he's a little more generous in this online review posted last week, he was similarly underwhelmed.
In his day Tower was unarguably one of the best chefs in the country. And while my dinner didn’t necessarily show it, there were glimmers of what might be in the roast chicken, tender and infused with tarragon, accompanied by roasted root vegetables and a gratin of sliced potatoes and mushrooms.
Tower, who retired from cooking after the sale of Stars (which had at that point expanded to Asia) in the late 90s, decamped to Mexico and turned his life's work into a cheeky 2003 memoir of the early days of California cuisine, titled California Dish. Tower was the chef to put Chez Panisse on the map back in the late 1970s, without having any formal culinary training, and he went on to become the great showman/impresario of the food world with Stars in 80's. The memoir set off some tittering, especially among chefs and local foodinistas, because in it Tower largely took credit for Chez Panisse becoming what it became, dismissing his friend Alice Waters' role, before, as Wells jokes, "it began acting like Our Lady of the Holy Heirloom Squash."