Thursday, May 26, 2011

FEDORA: I Tip my Hat

A bit turned around on the circuitous streets of the West Village, I tracked down a local for directions to Fedora, at which he wrinkled up his nose and remarked "that old dodgy place?" and pointed me around the corner. He was, however, referencing the Fedora of late, an historic NYC relic long since shut down. The new incarnation, nurtured back to life by the Joseph Leonard/Jeffrey's Grocery team, retains only the name for nostalgia's sake. Everything else is revamped and renovated, and as a result, one spot-on destination worthy restaurant, hitting just about every crucial element square on the head. And capped off with the snazz of a Fedora.

Even their reservation policy is novel and convenient. Day of, starts at 11am, first call, first served. We easily nabbed a two-top for 7:45, and at 7:35, the party prior was paying up and heading out. So far, so good. The space is dark, to be sure, and as the evening progresses, so does the noise volume. But it suits the bustling vibe. There were only four servers that we could intuit, but each pitched in to help where needed, with no loss of hospitality or flow. They dress in natty vests and button downs, jeans and tattoos: standard hipster-waiter uniform.

Specials were described in detail and with price: these guys know their customer. The food on the menu runs the risk of sounding too outlandish, but the output (for the most part) assuages less adventurous palates. Snarkily titled Crispy Pig's Head was nothing even remotely shocking. Intensely porky cheek meat, pulled, seasoned, and formed into a tender croquette, refreshed by crunchy cucumbers, shredded napa cabbage and enriched by a luscious gribiche dressing that hinted vaguely of ranch, but this blend of fresh sour cream and snipped herbs coalesced to reach heights no Hidden Valley ever even dreamed of. A beet salad comes in a
humongous bowl (Elaine would be proud), filled with quartered chioggias steamed tender, lots of shaved ricotta and crunchy walnuts atop mixed greens. A missed opportunity presented itself in a dish that every table flanking us ordered... and consequently licked clean. The Egg in a Hold, a suspicious sounding combination of tripe ragout and cheddar with a poached egg on toast, looked saucy and rich. Split between four appeared the ideal breakdown for an appetizer, otherwise running the risk of appetite-killer. But each bite was met with eye-rolling satisfaction: a definite must-order for a return visit.

Portions here are generous, especially for the prices. After such hefty appetizers, I couldn't even finish my entree, delicious as though it was. Pan-roasted hake with shiitake and radishes sat on a creamy pillow of soft polenta. The fish was crisped golden on one side and flaked tender beneath, the lightly pickled radishes adding a nice, sour foil and the mushrooms (both those mentioned and a cameo of buna shimeji) a touch of umami. A daily special of roasted squab was a little trickier. It arrived Tim

Burton-style: little rigor-mortis claws reaching out over the edge of the dish, which would've worked better had the other end of the leg not been sort of gristly and tough, while remaining undercooked. It was actually frightening in more than just appearance, although glazed in a lip-smacking sauce that made up for some of its faults. And while I thought Sant Ambroeus would serve me my last brussels sprouts,
Fedora's trumped them on all counts (not in the least actually remembering that I ordered them.) While not the perfect compliment to our entrees, they certainly were not for want of flavor themselves. Roasted with black beans, bacon and a vinegary heat, they acted as little umami bombs, perfectly cooked to a firm tenderness and abundant in their white porcelain bowl.

Full bellied from "supper" (as it is dubbed on the menu), the dessert list looked too enticing to deny. Unfortunately, the apple crumble pie that so enthusiastically jumped out at me had, bewilderingly (for a Tuesday night on the early side), "run out." Thus, we were offered a waitress's choice (which was my second choice, anyways) of "cheesecake" panna cotta, a tangy custard glazed with an even kickier
passion fruit jelly and a drift of crumbed graham cracker, best spooned up generously with each mouthful to cut the tart bite of the pudding with its sandy sweetness. A nice dessert, complemented luxuriously with a robust cup of Stumptown (I ordered decaf, and was again forewarned of a potential supply exhaustion, but apparently I swooped in in time for a final cup). Thankfully, because even if this was bottom-of-the-pot it was a top-of-the-charts mug of joe, caffeinated or not. (Man, I love where I'm from.) So despite its few dainty missteps, Fedora comes off as an all-around crowd-pleaser, worthy of a subway trip if that's what it takes, or else just a good GPS for the windy streets of the West Village. Once arrived , you can stash it under your fedora.

239 West 4th Street

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