Sunday, June 17, 2012


I wanted to watch the movie that inspired this restaurant's name before I wrote this post, but it's taking too long for it to arrive so I must forge ahead uninformed.  That said, there seemed to be no definitive consensus that the movie was, in fact, solely responsible for the name:  the nearby bell tower of Jefferson Market, the charming book store across the street and the candles prevalence in the restaurant also may have influenced the titleage.  But the more important influence comes from the rooftop garden of Bell Book & Candle: a charming construct that supplies a large percentage of its greens, herbs, vegetables and fruits- enough so that the bottom of the menu lists a nice little produce synopsis of what's in season and being currently utilized.  

The restaurant itself is a quirky subterranean space with which I am well-familiar: when I lived on West 10th street upon first moving to New York, this address was actually my laundromat: Suds Cafe.  Then, the area which now situates BB&C's bar was a small, minimalist cafe, and a small hallway connected the washers and driers, which is now the larger dining room.  Here, it is dark.  The movie (so I hear) is set in a basement apartment, and this subterranean space feels unmistakably underground.   The only daylight comes from the glass doors that are above eye-level by the time you descend into the restaurant, and when the sun goes down, even that is lost.  The rest of the place relies on illumination from deflected strip lighting and yes, quite a few candles.  So lighting-wise, dim it is.

But a cheery staff and vibrant menu selections will compensate  for a lot of that.  We started off with two Living Leaf salads straight from the roof:  a riff on a classic wedge featured iceberg that was similar to a tight head of butter lettuce, lightly anointed with a bleu cheese dressing and a more generous toss of crumbled bleu and nicely diced, meaty cubes of chewy, salty bacon.  Some heirloom cherry tomatoes updated the classic with a burst of color and juiciness.

The housemade burrata didn't have a lot of leaves, living or otherwise, but it came with more of those jewel-toned tomatoes and crisp crostini surrounding a hulking mass of gorgeously oozy cheese.  My dining a companion (an Italian, to boot) was amazed that such an exquisite burrata could have been made by Yankee hands... it was that good.

Another salad we took as a side for the burger (instead of fries... it is bikini season, after all).   I can't say I've ever voluntarily ordered or bought Thousand Island dressing, but BB&C's "Old School" housemade version was a completely new animal: tart and zesty, with no cloying gumminess.  Bottle THIS stuff and I'd definitely put it in the rotation.  It anointed a melange of baby greens, carrot ribbons and slim cucumber medallions for a salad that looked traditional but tasted anything but.  And the burger that that salad partnered with was a touch untraditional as well (Ozersky might balk), but it was outstanding.  Sandwiched with thick slices of a chewy light rye, the juicy patty nuzzled in vintage cheddar lent its juices to soften (but not sog) the griddled bread, and a big Rooftop pickle spear harpooned the richness.  (Well, it said rooftop pickle.. I'm guessing it was rooftop cucumber and basement pickle, but whatever.)  It was fantastic, fork and knife worthy, with housemade ketchup alongside.  

But BB&C isn't just another purported "comfort food" haven; Chef John Mooney knows his way around more sophisticated foodstuffs as well.  Pan-seared seabass nestled in a ragout of vibrant favas, ramps and a hodge-podge of mushrooms, giving the fish's lightness a substantial yet seasonal counterpart.  Its skin retained its golden crispiness well above the brothy sauce that might've otherwise compromised its crunch.  We got even a little more green with a side of grilled asparagus- as good as I've ever had.  Salty, thick spears perfectly tender, robustly flavored and brilliantly charred served sizzling on a cast iron casserole all their own.

Dessert presents good variety, but the strhubarb (strawberry-rhubarb) crisp was a no-brainer with June on the calendar.  Maybe a little more contemplation would've been advisable, though, because this rendition was a too jammy and sweet, and had a distinct layer of uncooked doughiness between the fruit and the streusel- a common gaffe, unfortunately- but while the quality scoop of vanilla made up for some of that, it still was a kind of disappointing finale.  Hardly enough to detract from the overall experience at Bell Book & Candle, though.  The "local, organic, sustainable, and overall responsible procurement" of everything on the menu not only does the right thing: it's doing the right thing right.

141 West 10th Street
tel. #1.212.414.2355

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