Big Night Out at GEM
One room boasts deep red hues, stuffed leather chairs and wine glasses. One room has open space flanked with low tables and lounge couches, set for dancing and bottle service. In the middle is a bar where attractive, corset-topped women are ready to shake up a drink. Confused yet? It’s all in the name of the supper-club concept, joining a dining experience with social entertainment. Popular in the 1930′s and 40′s, Big Night Entertain Group’s new venture transforms that prohibition-era style into the present day at their new venture, GEM.
Location: Situated in the space of the formers Kennedy’s in the Financial District, Gem offers a “fusion of gastro-lounge and supper-club.”
Cocktails: Arriving early on a Friday night, we sat at the bar for a pre-dinner cocktail. The drink menu is broken into martinis and cocktails, many with some type of gem in the name. After falling in love with rose water at Red Lantern, I opted for the Rose Quartz. It was a little on the tart side, and the rose water was difficult to pick out. Jon started with a Sazerac, which was appropriately stirred. This classic cocktail was well made and hit the spot.
Rose Quartz (Grey Goose Le Citron, raspberry syrup, fresh lemon, rose water; $14) and Sazerac (Old Overholt, Pernod rinse, bitters; $12)
Appetizers: A wide variety of creative appetizers left us with some difficult choices. With some help from our friendly server, we picked a few, and were also sent out an amuse.
Local Burrata and Toast with unfiltered olive oil, opal basil, cured tomato ($14)
I’m still trying to figure how I had never had burrata before, and after tasting it here, I know it will be a new favorite. Served chilled with crispy baguettes, topped with basil and olive oil, this is a prefect summer appetizer.
Shrimp & Grits with white grits, American shrimp, bacon lardons, pickled watermelon rind
Jon had noticed this on the menu, and it was the one appetizer two people had recommended to us. When we asked our server about it, he also said it was his favorite on the list, but cautioned that it wasn’t as thick as traditional grits. Seemingly out of place compared to the rest of the menu, this inventive dish was on the mark. Creamy grits contrast the spicy shrimp, cooked with just that little bit if a crisp left to the bite.
Fried Gnocchi with plum tomato sauce ($6)
Listed as a side dish, we asked for an order as an appetizer. This was the only dish of the night that we were a little disappointed with. The gnocchi were very thick, and while lightly fried, didn’t quite have that pillow-soft mouth feel of this traditional Italian delight.
Lemon Arancini (amuse)
The amuse for the evening was a lemon arancini. Served in small bites, the lemon flavor was enough to cut through the usual richness of the arancini without a dominating lemon flavor.
Hamachi & Tuna Tartare with grated Maui onion soy and crispies ($18)
The Chef was kind enough to send us a small order of the tuna tartare, which was delicious. The vegetable bed provided a nice texture to the seared piece of tuna, while also adding a touch of flavor from the onion soy dressing.
Steak & Frites; prime rib eye, garlic butter and house fries ($35)
I always seem drawn to steak frites, and when a restaurant does it well, it’s such a great dish. I was totally impressed with Gem’s version, served with a classic garlic butter sauce. Fries were hot and crispy, and even more delicious with a touch of sauce.
Pressed Crisp Chicken with marsala jus and tosca signature ($25)
Jon is on a chicken kick, and the entree at Gem did not disappoint. Chicken was crisp, yet juicy, and the creamy bed of either polenta, or the creamiest mashed potatoes I’ve ever had, provided an extra layer of flavor. A salad with gorgonzola topped the chicken: I loved it, but I know Jon would have asked for it on the side had it been included on the menu (he’s not a gorgonzola fan). The marsala sauce with sweet onions really stood as the flavor highlights.
Overall Impression: I did not know what to expect walking in to Gem. Their twitter feed features as many food mentions as it does DJ names. Is it a restaurant? Or is it a club? If it’s both, will the food actually be good? When we had our first bites and realized the food was, in fact, very good, we remembered that Gem is a Big Night Entertain Group restaurant, who also delivers quality food at Red Lantern among others, that it’s no wonder the food at Gem was much better than expected. Then I got curious about the nightlife scene and inquired with our server. According to him, the crowd is very diverse, ranging from 21 year old partiers, to 30-something bachelorette parties up to an older crowd out for dinner that found their way to the dance floor. Bottle service at reserved tables is also available.
Final Thoughts: If you can get over the Vegas-like exterior and into the refined dining room, Gem offers traditional supper-club fare at a bit above average price point. Perhaps we were awed because of our low expectations, or perhaps Big Night has hit the mark again.
Disclosure: We were guests of Gem; all opinions are our own.
Have you been pleasantly surprised by a dining experience recently?