Wednesday, October 12, 2011

WESTVILLE: Why Wasn't I Here Before?

Westville is four blocks from my house.  It is cheap (relatively), market-driven, lively, popular, friendly and cute.  So I ask me: why haven't I ever been here before??

Regardless, I was here last night, and it evokes a "finally" type qualifier.  Westville is not fine dining, certainly not faultless, but it's good, solid, fresh seasonal food that as long as you're in the mood for that, is really tough to have a problem with.  The lines outside for brunch (and a packed house on the night I visited), illustrate this.  Anyways, on probably the last night of the year where dining outside would be an option, we plunked down at a prime two-top on a full-moon moonlit evening, still balmy of residual summer but fall making some headway into the hyper-seasonal menu.  We took a LONG time deciding what to order.  The regular menu is long; the seasonal market daily special's menu is the same length.  Sidelong glances to our neighbor's dinners dictated that we wouldn't be ordering separate apps, mains and sides: these portions are BIG.  There are a few salads, none of which scream ingenuity, so we started off with a pile of roasted beets (given the option of walnuts vs. goat cheese, we chose fromage), steaming on a porcelain white plate, just screaming for the cheese to warm up and ease it's way between the chunks of pristine root.  Far as I could tell, they were virgin, so I who love beets, relished their inherent beetness, but the herb-flecked goat cheese rescued them from monotony.

Next up, we chose from a head-spinningly long list of market sides for a four-option plate ($14.00) and shared an entree of whole roasted trout with sweet potato fries and salad.  We followed our server's suggestion with the brussels sprouts and artichokes (which were my choices anyways) plus roasted cauliflower dijonaise (sic), and sauteed mushrooms with leeks.  The mushrooms were the best by far, a perfectly hodgepodge of woodland funghi, salty and fragrant of earth and umami.  Next, I guess I had to love the brussels sprouts, even if they were slightly underdone in their middles.   (The smaller ones were perfectly tender and nutty like a good sprout should be.)  A fugitive hunk of cauliflower from a prior diner's fumble remained on the sidewalk underneath our table, and it almost looked good enough to overhaul the Five Second rule.  So it made the cut for our #3 choice.  Alas, in reality the cauliflower was also unevenly cooked: small florets softened ideally but the bigger ones left with a little too much raw bite in the centers.  But the roasty edges hinted of pungent mustard with a nudge of sweet and the richness of a touch a mayonnaise, perhaps?  The most disappointing were the artichokes, though.  Obviously not fresh-plucked specimens, they actually tasted like canned (which are probably THE best canned vegetable there is along with corn, but still), with a bit of saline tang, quartered and haphazardly matted with parmesan.  Nothing of the rich, nutty, earthy thistle that I was expecting, especially since they had come recommended as a favorite by our waitress.  But vegephiles unite: you could easily call this plate alone dinner, especially if you opted for some of the heartier, protein-studded selections like the marinated tofu or seared plantains with cotija.   We stuck it out for a real main course, though, with the whole grilled trout, which was a big fish, this guy, sporting char marks that were no joke- the smoky, toasty flavor of fire permeated the delicate flesh to great effect, conjuring up recollections of a fresh caught rainbow cooked over open coals at a dusky campfire I may or may not have ever experienced.  Sweet potato fries were the perfect foil for it, crispy and tender with a rich, vegetal sweetness.  Good as the trout was, though, I couldn't keep my eyes off the chicken shawarma adjacent to us, which was a an overloaded platter heaped with chunks of fire-grilled chicken with a yogurty salad and stacks of pliant flatbread.  That plate could've fed two hungries alone.  A seafood burger on a Portuguese roll, a steak salad... a lot of stuff on this menu looked tempting.

We (unfortunately) skipped dessert... I looked at the daily specials listing pumpkin pie as the dessert option, which I'm not quite ready to accept in a surrender of summer.  That completely overlooked the farm-friendly pies, cobblers and sundaes on the regular menu that totally should've been explored.

I didn't follow any chef here.  (They don't even list a chef on their website.  There are three Westville locations, so probably whoever has their thumb on the menu just scripts all of them.)  If anything, I followed the farmer, or at least his dirt candy.  And I'll come back again, too, to see what these cooks can do with what the season has to offer.

246 W18th Street, New York, NY 10011
Between 7th & 8th Avenues
Phone: 212-924-2223


  1. found you when i was googling westville ... i had lunch there in september and loved it! now i am trying to recreate their market sides at home. :) loved your descriptions of the food, and think that the beets and goat cheese sound wonderful.

  2. Thanks, Ali. Feel free to follow me here, and I hope i can turn you onto some more mutual favorites!