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FOOD AND DRINK

6 MIN

How to Eat and Drink your Way Through the West Village

It’s highly recommended to get a little lost in the West Village. Here's how.

From quaint neighborhood haunts to stylish new restaurants and bars, small sidewalk cafés, and well-curated speciality shops, the West Village has plenty of high and low brow culinary destinations. Whether you’re following the “Villagers” to weekend brunch or a coveted tasting menu, the area’s eating scene is known for its laid-back charm and warm character. Eating and drinking here often feels like a blissful respite away from New York’s typical hustle and bustle.

You’ll be just as likely to stumble upon a local celebrity under big sunglasses as a “secret” garden for the perfect picnic (try the Church of St. Luke in the Fields or Jefferson Square Park). And there’s no more entertaining spot to take your New York bagel with a hot beverage and/or smoked salmon and cream cheese to-go than Washington Square Park. There are plenty of benches for some prime people-watching, from Manhattanites to tourists and busker performances, the likes of a pianist in tails playing a baby grand under the triumphal arch.

It’s highly recommended to get a little lost in the West Village’s tree-lined labyrinth of serendipitous offerings and illogically numbered street intersections. Or just soak-up this lovely piece of Manhattan life over a New York pizza slice from an empty brownstone stoop.

Cheap and Cheerful

Start your engines while rubbing elbows with locals and celeb regulars over breakfast mainstays like omelettes, French toast and pancakes, at classic diner and neighbourhood institution, La Bonbonniere. Otherwise, the unassuming mom-and-pop French pastry shop Patisserie Claude serves some of the Village’s most buttery warm-from-the-oven croissants and pain au chocolat. But for a more modern take, Vancouverite Claire Chan’s bright and quaint Elk coffee shop cheerfully pours cold brew accompanied by grapefruit brûlée or baked egg toast with zucchini.

For lunch, modest Taim serves authentic Israeli street food, with top billing going to three varieties of crisp and flavourful falafel (green, red, and yellow), alongside a healthy variety of Israeli salads. Taim has also begun featuring a falafel created by a different celebrity chef every month for the year, from the likes of Mario Batali to Bobby Flay and Molly Yeh (with a dollar from every sandwich going towards charity). Or mix it up with Filipino fusion at 2nd City where Canadian chef, Jordan Andino, combines his upscale expertise from Jean-Georges and The French Laundry with secret family recipes.

Later on, suck back $1 oysters with killer cocktails at the tiny but always inviting Italian wine bar, Virgola. Or head to Gottino for a glass of cabernet accompanied by heaping fig, almond, and ricotta crostini on a tree-shaded back garden with string lights. For dinner, Malatesta is an unpretentious and lively neighbourhood spot (cash only) for affordable homemade dishes like spinach gnocchi with gorgonzola or giant veal meatballs in traditional tomato sauce. The best house seats wrap around the street patio.

Otherwise, go classic old school with a Neapolitan-style Margherita pizza pie at Kesté or hit Joe's Pizza for a legendary thin-crusted, cheesy New York slice (considered to be amongst Manhattan’s absolute best). There’s no better way to finish a late night out on the town.

Upholstery Store Food and Wine

A Taste of France, Italy, and Austria

The small and bustling French bistro, Buvette, knows how to treat brunch as an event. Steam-scrambled eggs with smoked salmon, raspberry belgian waffles, crusty bread topped with walnut and cranberry, and both croques monsieur and madame are best enjoyed at the marble bar or in the lovely back garden. The illustrated almanac-style drinks book will lead you to a sweet cognac twist on the classic Manhattan and a Bloody Mary that gets a special spike from homemade horseradish.

If the line at Buvette is too intimidating, try other neighbourhood French favourite, Dominique. Situated on an impossibly charming corner, the Parisian-style bistro is small but feels airy with floor-to-ceiling windows and an open kitchen. Relax and indulge over well-executed classics like duck hash with poached eggs or chocolate mousse and fresh berry waffles.

Meanwhile, at I Sodi, Rita Sodi pays tribute to her mother’s Tuscan cooking with robustly flavourful traditional dishes and seasonal ingredients like a signature lasagna, reputed to be the absolute best in New York. There are also six versions of the Negroni cocktail and an impressive variety of Italian wines. If you drop by for a plate of cheese and meats at the bar, you’ll find yourself in the good company of neighbourhood locals and the occasional celebrity.

And on a quiet West Village block, you can indulge in the lively open kitchen of a laid-back neighbourhood haunt, Upholstery Store Food and Wine. Get cosy in cadillac blue leather banquettes to sample plates inspired by classic Austrian and contemporary American recipes. Feast on oysters topped with passion fruit, squid pasta with scallops and caviar, and striped sea bass cooked in tomato coriander sauce.

Splurge-Worthy

Disciple of Tokyo-sushi master Jiro (from the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi), Chef Daisuke Nakazawa, concocts a 20-course $120 tasting menu that’s reputed to serve some of the best sushi in the U.S. Be sure to reserve your spot at Sushi Nakazawa at least one month in advance.

A few blocks over at the little jewel box of a restaurant, Annisa, Anita Lo’s mixes her Asian-American heritage with her French training and international travel escapades. Expect thoughtful and inventive cooking like her signature dish, foie gras soup dumplings with anise and cinnamon.

At Blue Hill’s shrine to the “farm-to-table” movement, Dan Barber lovingly executes inventive dishes with the freshest of ingredients from his biodynamic upstate farm. These days he’s also introducing a new and radical fast-casual bar-menu, having fun with iconic fast foods and serving them on a plastic tray. Expect string-bean “fries” made with sourdough, a “beet-furter” concocted from beet and pork scraps with beet ketchup and fermented-corn mustard, and doughless potato pizza comprised of “experimental” potatoes, fresh ricotta, and tomatoes.

Employees Only

From Historic Pubs to Stylish Bars

Closed for almost 10 years after a collapsed wall, the legendary speakeasy Chumley’s recently reopened. Back in its day, the historic watering hole was a regular haunt of literary greats counting E.E. Cummings, Ernest Hemingway, Edna St. Vincent Millay, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Willa Cather and John Steinbeck. Run by Jim Miller (who started there as a part-time bartender) and Sushi Nakazawa restaurateur Alessandro Borgognone, the bar will keep its unmarked wooden door entrance (for insiders in the know). The interior will get a little extra “TLC” with oak tables and plush banquettes, as well as paintings and framed book jackets that pay homage to the legendary literary barflys of yesteryear.

For more lavish tastes, the newish Riddling Widow is an intimate underground champagne and wine bar that also serves generous cheese plates and spins an impressive collection of old school vinyl. And the safari-inspired Ballroom at the Jane Hotel is loud, clubby, and popular with models; meanwhile, the rooftop bar (formerly the apartment of RuPaul) offers a lower key vibe with unobstructed views of the Hudson River (without the pretentious wait in line). Or saddle up to the bar for a craft beer and a signature Roquefort burger at Michelin starred The Spotted Pig, New York’s first gastropub.

With an eight-cocktail menu by Xavier Herit, former Daniel bartender, Wallflower features concoctions with unexpected combinations like Nutella and brandy or dark rum with smoked-­pineapple syrup and habañero bitters. Meanwhile, suspender-wearing mixologists sling signature mojitos in the subterranean speakeasy, Little Branch

And no serious barhopper should miss Employees Only. Ranked by the Spirited Awards as one of the “best cocktail bars on Earth,” it’s where the craft cocktail movement first began in the early 2000s. Bartenders free pour and taste ingredients as they go, singing along to blaring '80s music and crushing mint in cadence with the rising beat. It’s obvious that the employees here are truly committed. Tradition has it that every bartender gets voluntarily branded with a tattoo of the Employees Only logo.

Sweet Surrender

Yeast doughnuts rise at the trendy Doughnut Project with creative combinations like sweet cream cheese with garlic, sesame and poppy seeds (a contemporary take on the everything bagel), beet with ricotta, and chocolate cream with roasted bone marrow and orange-infused shavings. At Aux Merveilleux De Fred, Parisian Frédéric Vaucamps moulds airy meringues into magical snowballs with Belgian cream, chocolate shavings, praline, and caramel. The locally sourced goat’s milk soft-serve and milkshakes at Victory Garden are reputed to be creamy and decadent, but on the healthier side of all cow milk contenders. And the Sweet Corner bakes-up decadent sea salt chocolate chip cookies with four kinds of chocolate.

But chances are high that you’ll bypass what Saveur Magazine called “NYC’s best cookie:” the hazelnut linzer tarts with pineapple-rosemary jam and spicy Japanese chile paste at hidden gem tea house, Té Company. You’ll be required to spot the tea shop’s only marking, a small teapot and brave the entrance to a residential walk-up. But the reward is the infamous cookie herself (along with savoury specialties like potato and egg tortilla) over fragrant pots of oolong tea – all from the kitchen of a former Per Se sous-chef.

How to get to there:

The A, B, C, D, E, F and M trains stop at the West Fourth Street-Washington Square station. The 1 train stops at Christopher Street-Sheridan Square and at West Houston and Varick Streets.

Published Tuesday, December 13th 2016

Header image credit: Buvette

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