Friday, May 8, 2015


Easily could Via Carota's website be ilovecarota dot com, like its sister restaurant  Because I do (it's hard not to), both of them.  Carota is virtually Buvette italianofied by chefs Jodi Williams and Rita Sodi, in a slightly airier space than its brethren just steps away.  They share a no-reservations policy, but arriving early enough even on a near-perfectly weathered Monday night (there is limited outdoor seating, all of which was full) there was no wait for a table in the humbly decorated dining room, windows flung out to a busy West Village side street, glasses clinking and a soundtrack I would actually buy the whole of straight out.
 That breezy availability of table might change drastically as either the hour of day or day of week progressed... busier nights have seen easy hour and a half waits.  But we were whisked in and seated pleasantly, water glasses filled immediately, the default house-filtered tap gratis (as it should be).  Menus are furled up in small cubbies in the back of the rustic wooden chairs, listing simple small plates ideal for sharing, but feasibly molded into an app/entree format too, if desired.

The greatest hiccup at Carota is deciding: literally 80%+ of the menu I would've been thrilled to have on my fork. Jody Williams and Rita Sodi have whipped up a market-pending list of seasonal delicacies with something for virtually every palate. The opening segment of the menu is Verdure, boasting fifteen different garden delicacies, thoughtfully categorized according to price: the eponymous carrots, some salads and beans in the $13, and pricier seasonal harbingers at $16.    This might seem a little dear for vegetables, but the portions are generous, and
 they are immaculately prepared.   Gem-like chianti beets (weighing in the middle at $15) , shiny as rubies with their gentle slick of oil, are mingled with translucent coils of pickly white onion and creamy, crumbly ricotta salata.  The vegetables themselves aren't too trimmed and perfect, giving them a farmy sincerity that becomes perfect in its own right.  Funghi are a wild mix with a heady, earthy perfume, perfectly roasted so their rich flavor is augmented by a bit of chew.  They disguise a luxurious blob of smoky scamorza, but consume quickly, as it's
 decadently melty splendor has an abbreviated lifespan.  There were two versions of artichokes on the high end of the listings, and two asparagi , green and white, from which we chose the green.  Numerous spears boasted smoky grill marks, dabbed with creamy caprino and flecked with herbs.

There are four pastas on hand, all priced in the high teens, but substantial enough to more than justify the price.  A wild boar ragu bedecked floppy pappardelle, and there was a special tagliatelle described by our waitress, along with a handful of other daily off-the-menu specials in all categories.  (She had quite a bit to remember, as well as struggle with a pretty feeble grasp of the
 prolific Italian on the menu.  But she was very sweet and helpful... even if that required running back to the kitchen to inquire about a correct response.)  From the quartet of Pesce options we chose a grilled orata with escarole and flavorfully bitey green olives, simple and savory, fresh as could possibly be.  The firm-fleshed fish flaked perfectly, and there was ample vegetable to accompany cites.  Given Carota is pretty vegetable-driven, this was kind of a given.  Twice-cooked lamb ribs, however,  served with a stewy chicercia of chickpeas and tomatoes, was
 not only veggie scarce, but the only disappointment of the night, the lamb far too fatty with a paucity of meat.  I might've been happier with a simple grilled chicken.. or even just another selection of Verdure.  Which would've made the meal here even more reasonable, but price-wise Via Carota is still a very moderate establishment.  If your bill ends up too steep, you probably over-ordered.... or indulged in their exquisitely curated wine menu, that while offering bottles and glassees at both ends of the spectrum, always pads the bill.

I guess dessert wasn't quite as magnificent a finish as I might have wished for, either.  But a simple dish of wine-sweetened raspberries topped with a thick dollops of zabaglione was still pleasant.  The raspberries had that supermarket-perfect appearance, though, making me wish for the months to warm up past April and bring on farmer's market bounty of plush berries and drippy sink peaches.  While the rest of Via Carota's menu can accomodate all the fluctuations and variances of seasonality, desserts always shine brighter in summer's abundance.   So while the restaurant as a whole is already a definite crowd-pleaser, I anticipate summer is when she will really hit her sweet stride.

Dal lunedì al venerdì 11:00—24:00 Fine settimana 11:00—24:00


Wednesday, May 6, 2015


My first visit to Paris came when I was so young, never having traveled alone before, never really traveled at all, actually.  I arrived in the early evening, and ventured out for dinner at a typical neighborhood bistro: whichever nondescript address I happened upon first.  Perusing the menu with a puerile grasp of the French language, I ordered fish and potatoes, requesting the fish be not fried in butter, as best as I could mutter out in stilted French.  I meant not fried at all, but there it arrived, crispy golden-brown, a baffling disappointment.  My waiter reassured me "Oui, mademoiselle... it is not fried in butter.. it is fried in oil" with absolute sincerity.  Of course he was correct, but it didn't change my chagrin, and starving, I ate most of it anyways.  I don't remember if it was any good; I'm sure it was perfectly
 serviceable.  All I recall was the feeling of disappointment in both my linguistic capabilities and the lackluster first meal in the City of Lights: not light, and not culinarily memorable by any stretch.  So when I dined at La Gamelle, I suppose my experience was absolutely accurate in terms of authenticity and nostalgia of that first visit to Paris.

Not to disparage La Gamelle entirely- it expressly does what it intends to do: authentic French bistro fare, reasonably priced and humbly presented.  The room is Balthazar-esque- they even imported the bar from France.  It's a new French bistro in the neighborhood, for sure, but there's nothing new about it beyond that.  The menu is a fairly strict list of classics: the one item that I was preparing on ordering after a quick glean of the website  (a roasted cod with asparagus and salsify) was certainly the most novel option, but had already been eliminated upon my visit even though the space has only been open a couple of weeks.  It opened up the opportunity to order the asparagus "mousseline" as an appetizer, however, that featured many similar elements.   Tender asparagus alternated green and white underneath a heavy blanket of hollandaise, which didn't get much mousselined as I might have hoped, as the stalks were all but smothered underneath the bright herby sauce.    A French onion soup exhibited similar heft: a heady, rich broth
dense with melty onions and soup-soaked crouton, all of which was capped with the classic layer of thick gruyere.  All this just in time for bikini season.  Granted, these are absolute text-book perfect reenactments of classic French bistro fare.  They really couldn't be much more deftly executed.  But for my  tastes, there is a reason food evolves from that which was served a hundred years ago, and these plates seems mired in an antiquated heft.

As for entrees, you know what your getting yourself into with Steak Frites, served with the inevitable mountain of excellently crisp fries.  The meat was a little tough, though, surprising too since it was cooked less than desired: easily medium rare as opposed to the requested medium.  It was a nice, manageable portion- not too big or small, and enough fries for the table had we been  on a double date.  For just two, there were certainly frites to spare.  More sauce (Bearnaise this time) is on hand, but the mediocre meat could use it, and the fries don't suffer in its midst, either.  Having been slighted the roasted cod option, I took a whole grilled branzino in its stead, the crisp-skinned fish alone on the plate but for a halved lemon, but a side of rustic, course-chopped ratatouille-style vegetables arrived as accompaniment.  Too salty on their own, it helped cut the slight fishiness of the
 branzino, which tasted a little muddy and proved cumbersome to de-bone.   We also tried the garlicky haricots verts, which were a lovely emerald and perfectly tender, but sluiced in such a deep pool of oil it was prudent to let each one drip-dry momentarily before eating.  Or else this is when the bread basket comes in handy, as a swab.  The bread was good, though, too, fresh and sturdily crusted- a pretty good baguette by New York standards. 

The best thing we had all night by far was the nougat dessert, a frothy-light mousse studded with crunchy roasted nuts and a generous crown of chantilly.  A jammy puree of red raspberry accompanied in a silver pitcher aside, daubed on generously achieved the best bites.  Decaf is only offered americano-style, and was a little dirty and stale tasting, as if prepared from an old moka that needs to be re-seasoned.  And while  I wouldn't nearly categorize La Gamelle as dirty or stale,  it's definitely not on the forefront of innovation.  So if you're pining for the standards, you couldn't find a better purveyor.  "La gamelle" is French for the dish the dog eats out of; this little doggy would find more intriguing vittles elsewhere.

241 Bowery
tel.  (212) 388-0052