It looks like Tavern on the Green will actually open on April 24, with chef Katy Sparks at the helm of multiple hearth ovens, grills, planchas, and a staff of 40 cooks. Sparks, formerly of Mesa Grill and Quilty's, has spent the last few years consulting — and figuring out to how to write a menu for a restaurant with 700 seats: "We've spent a lot of time sourcing the best possible ingredients," she says. "You've got to have a strategy for a restaurant that big. It can't be whimsical, or whatever I feel like cooking that night! Even minor changes are a big deal. You need to be able to rest on the quality of the food." Part of her game plan is to support the local food economy and team up with New York–based vendors, including Mast Brothers, Hot Bread Kitchen, Finnish Ruis bread, and Bread Alone Bakery.
You won't find any nods to stuffy old Tavern dishes: "I never even ate at Tavern on the Green, so I don't even know what the old classics are," Sparks says. Instead, she's starting fresh: Her menu includes a grilled local-squid salad, wood-roasted Japanese eggplant, a smoked fish plate, and heartier entrées like baked farro pasta, braised lamb shank with fresh-mint gremolata, and an $18 grass-fed-beef burger. Most large plates are priced under $30, with a few exceptions — a $54 prime New York strip steak and $34 Atlantic hake with Montauk clams."It's accessible food — the kind you want to eat regularly, as well as special-occasion stuff," Sparks says. "They're pretty normal, good-quality New York restaurant prices."
The working dessert menu is comprised of twists on classics: Red velvet cake made with roasted beets; ricotta cheesecake with rhubarb, Parmesan-fennel shortbread, and black sesame; icebox cake made of Ruis rye bread; and brown-sugar pavlova with matcha curd. Instead of hiring a pastry chef, Sparks has chosen to create a pastry sous-chef role. "I want to have a lot of input, and I also want to try to create a bridge between the pastry and the savory programs."
The menu is by no means boring — there's Nettle Meadow Kunik cheese and La Quercia speck in a seemingly simple salad — but it's not supposed to be overly ambitious. "It was never my intention to create a a menu that says, 'Look at me,'" Sparks says. "It's about enjoying this beautiful space in the greatest city. My ego will be gratified by people thinking the food is delicious, rather than it represents unusual ideas."