Trip report - a week eating (mostly) in the West Village
Thanks to everyone on the board for making our trip to NY easy. I’m trying to remember back to the dark ages when one would have to walk by restaurants thinking – does this one look good? The following is our trip report. We’re a family of 4 from Fort Lauderdale, FL with two boys 14 and 11. After originally planning to stay in a hotel near Madison Square Park, I had a change of heart and we stayed instead in an apartment near 7th Ave and Bleeker, took it easy, and spent most of our time in and around the West Village. Our first afternoon and evening we saw midtown, and had a morning downtown, but after that we stayed pretty close to “home, and ate mostly within a couple of blocks of our apartment.
Here’s where we ate, with stars by my favorites:
Murray’s Cheese Shop sandwiches to go*
Doma na rohu (4 times)
Spotted Pig (brunch)
Dominique Ansel assortment (take out)*
Blue Ribbon (desserts)
Waffles and Dinges*
Roxy’s Deli pastries
Le Arte de Gelato
Milk and Cookies
Every place we ate had at least one outstanding dish, with Minetta Tavern coming closest to the fabled perfect meal missing slightly with just one dish, Public missing more obviously with just one, and Babbo coming in a strong third place. The exception is Totonno’s, which mystified us with one-dimensional and bland pies, but this is obviously a matter of style and I’ll make no more mention of our only disappointment.
I took a quick poll of the family and asked what dish would get them to return to NY for a quick meal:
Me: The warm Cannele de Bordeax or DKA from Dominique Ansel
Wife: Tied between Babbo’s Garganelli with mushroom and Palma’s Pappardelle with lamb
Son 1: Babbo’s octopus
Son 2: Fatty Cue’s deep fried bacon
Detailed impressions and photos coming soon.
We happened to walk by Little Owl several times during our stay and no matter the time of day, there was always someone taking a picture of the place from accross the street. Huh?
One day we saw the scene below with this huge crowd taking pictures and it clicked that this restaurant must have been in Sex in the City. I thought that it was kind of funny, or something. I'm not sure. I got it in Boston seeing all the people arriving by tour bus to Cheers because I recognized the iconic (for folks my age) sign and stairway. Was Little Owl featured that prominently in Sex in the City? Weird seeing everybody getting all excited over a little corner restaurant. Wouldn't it be nice if they were excited about the good food instead?
little owl's food isnt so special. i think people go there because they love the idea of a quaint little west village bistro but its really forgettable.
i like the breslin but the food is just too salty and fatty for its own good. places like joe beef in montreal do HEAVY food quite well but i always felt that april bloomfield isn't a great chef and oversalts her food to compensate for her lack of skills.
As I mentioned, originally we had hotel reservations near Madison Square Park, thinking this was a good “central” location to see all the tourist things we wanted to see with the kids. This evolved into taking a more laid back approach and we wound up just taking in a smaller part of Manhattan. After spending some time in the West Village, I’m pretty sure on future trips we’ll be looking to stay south of 14th first and foremost.
Overall, the service for the first four restaurants at which we ate, The Breslin, Babbo, Public and Minetta Tavern, was to a very high standard. Of these the service quality award would by a large margin go to Babbo. My children are now going to start noticing deficiencies in service when we eat out at out local places after 4 nights of perfect service. The service at Fatty Cues was excellent but not designed to be comparable to the others. For example, we received a complimentary amuse bouche before our meal but our server didn’t know what it was. The service at Palma was somewhat disorganized but acceptable.
Standouts: atmosphere, cocktails, razor clams, baby octopus
To get this out of the way right up front, overall the food we had at The Breslin was “good.” Billing itself as upscale bar food would make me say it was “very good” bar food. Overall, I loved our meal here but would not consider most of the food memorable in and of itself, although it was expertly prepared and was memorable for that reason. Perhaps I am just not a fan of the cuisine.
We arrived upon opening at 5:30 on a Sunday. (We planned on catching the sunset from Top of the Rock – ugh the crowds). Only a few tables were occupied during our seating and when we left at 7:30 the restaurant was still less than half full. The space was right up my alley and I loved it. Black leather and tartan everywhere and a look like the place had been around for 100 years. Very well done without being “themey.” We sat in a booth with a curtain which we pulled closed occasionally to cocoon.
If the bar food was very good the cocktails were exceptional. To me judging a cocktail is simple but my standards are high in their way. If the flavors develop slowly in the mouth and are complex enough, I’m happy. If I regret not having ordered a nice single-malt instead, I’m not happy.
I followed my usual pattern of tequila to whiskey and tried the Pablo Honey followed by the Liquid Swords, both complex enough to put a smile on my face. Instead of moving onto beer with the meal, on the advice of one of our servers I tried the Beggar’s Banquet with our appetizers. Rarely do I enjoy a beer cocktail (maybe never), but this one was delicious and not overpowered by the ale. Then I moved onto beer and ordered a “Spotted Hen” before our server cocked her head and suggested maybe I was thinking of the Spotted Pig (guilty) and brought me a Speckled Hen. :-) My wife ordered an excellent Long island Iced Tea. I would recommend each of the four drinks we tried.
We started with the Scotch egg, Stilton pie, razor clams, and baby octopus. The octopus and razor clams were wonderful, and my favorite dishes of the meal. I was thinking maybe this was because they were lighter and not too rich or drenched in sauce, but that’s not the case. The clams were prepared with Serrano ham which I was worried would overpower the clams, but the two flavors and textures balanced very well. The octopus likewise was served with a heavy rouille and delicious garlic scapes which complimented each other. In fact when my youngest didn’t care for his garlic scape I was quite happy to snag it off his plate before anyone could get it.
My youngest though was very happy with the Scotch egg, which was one of his favorite dishes of the trip. I have to say it was the first time I’ve enjoyed a Scotch Egg and it was almost light, even though the egg is surrounded by sausage and deep fried in bread crumbs. I am happy we split it into four because while this may be a great food to eat at the bar while working on a few beers, as an appetizer I believe I would grow tired of the rich monotonous flavor before I finished one by myself. The same can be said of the rich Stilton Pie, delicious in the quarter serving I took, but a whole one would make a better accompaniment to some other food than as a serving on its own.
Now I have only myself to blame but we ordered the Pig’s Foot for me and my sons to share while my wife got the vinegared poussin. The poussin looked delicious and I thought it tasted just fine but as I rarely enjoy chicken, I couldn’t judge. My wife on the other hand is a chicken connoisseur, and try as I might I just couldn’t get her to say any more than it was “good,” - faint praise from her.
The pig’s foot was an unusual thing to say the least. Basically prepared I guess like head cheese with the meat from pigs’ feet being made into sausage then stuffed back into the leg and deep fried. Flavor was reminiscent of corned beef. Again, like the stilton pie, this was just too much and too rich for us to make into a meal by itself. I would say in all seriousness that I would have enjoyed 1/20 of a serving with the excellent vegetables as an appetizer. Just too strong of a flavor and too monotonous to make a meal. The testa I had the following night at Babbo was 1/200th the portion size with a similar flavor and was out of this world. Bummer for us and my kids didn’t get to try the burger and fries, nor did I get to try the lamb ribs. My fault but I got a good picture at least.
For desert one son had an excellent rhubarb tart with ice cream and black pepper – recommended. The other ordered the toasted marshmallow ice cream, which had too deep of a burnt sugar flavor for him. After one bite he passed it over to me and I loved it even if it didn’t taste too much like marshmallow, or perhaps because of it. I promised him we’d get some desert for him later in Times Square, as I’ve been to Roxy’s Deli there before and the pastries and cookies are really pretty good. The cream horn, cookies, and Napoleon can be recommended if you stuck in Times Square when the sweet tooth aches.
2 - Baby Octopus with garlic scapes (blurry - blame the good cocktails)
3 - Scotch Egg
4 - Pig's Foot
5 - Vinegared Poussin
6 - Sliced Pig's Foot - more of the same inside
Breakfasts first. When we didn’t eat family style we at least tried bites of each other’s food so I did try everything.
Doma na rohu
Standouts: Murray’s bagels, Babichka.
Doma is indeed an excellent breakfast place. I don’t know how it compares to other spots in the area, as we all loved it so much for a lightish breakfast that we decided to make it our “regular” spot. What attracted us originally is that they serve Murray’s bagels. That’s really all we need to make us Floridians happy, so we tried it. We did go four times always between 9 and 10am and had every breakfast dish on their small menu (I think) so I guess I can review it.
The bagels come toasted by default, I don’t know if that’s a faux pas, but we liked them that way. Salmon was very good too. Oatmeal with fruit was a small portion and the fruit was apple heavy, but those are quibbles for an excellent dish. The frittata with asparagus was good and well made. Granola with yogurt was fine. The potato brisket hash with fried egg was good too, the meat was stew-y and not my favorite but my kids loved it. One of my favorite dishes of our entire trip (new to me and I can try and make at home) was the Babichka, which I had twice and my son once. A simply prepared French toast stuffed with cream cheese. Amazing. Light and small enough to not induce guilt, but delicate enough to stand out. I love French toast and tried a Shopsins version and Spotted Pig’s, and preferred Doma’s. (Although Shopsins’ wins as a dessert).
However there was inconsistency. The first time I had the Babichka it was carefully prepared, cream cheese evenly spread. The second time I was disappointed to find a few bites had no cream cheese at all and others not enough. My son’s on the third day had huge globs in certain places which hadn’t been properly spread around. We found the same for the bagels. So find out what days the good cheese spreader is working. :-)
Service was fine, although when we were there each day there were only 3 or 4 other people/couples in the place and the single server was a little harried. I hope they have another server when it’s busier.
Standouts: I would guess all 900 things, but slutty cakes and scrambled eggs from what we tried.
Shopsins was Shopsins, probably no more comments need be added to what has been said on Chowhound. It was a real highlight for us all. The contrast of the location, the surly service (the table next to us got asked to leave because both people wanted to order the same thing) and Kenny himself who took cat naps out front between cooking all the orders - god bless him – with the quality of the ingredients and the careful preparations was unforgettable.
I got a little confused ordering for the kids and wound up getting the Last Request, basically a huge pile of food on a plate, sort of a buffet plate that I imagine two of me might fill up on. I forget what all was on it but digging through it I had first rate scrambled eggs, ham, and onions. I helped the kids get and eat the slutty cakes (original) and the pecan banana crème brule French toast. Even though we’ve made the slutty cakes at home, the way Kenny caramelizes them on the griddle made them over the top delicious. The French toast came with syrup but were much better without, as I mentioned they would make a fantastic desert at many restaurants. My wife appropriately enough got the Mommy - scrambled eggs, cinnamon raison French toast and sausage, which was another winner. The French toast was plain bread (I think) and the raisons were added during cooking. Really really good.
I would recommend trying to work in scrambled eggs to your order somehow. In a world where scrambled eggs are scrambled eggs, these have a lot to teach those others.
Standouts: Biscuits, Deep Fried Poached Eggs, Fries
We had brunch at Spotted Pig. As I’ll get to later, we screwed up and ordered the wrong thing at The Breslin so I wanted to give April Bloomfield another try.
We shared the Dutch baby with Bacon to start and while the bacon was good, the Dutch Baby was a soggy thin funnel-cake like contraption bathed in syrup which didn’t add much to the flavors nor the texture of maple and bacon. The plate was not pre-warmed and by the time it was slathered in syrup and brought to the table the paper-tin pancake was room-temperature. Not recommended. Dip some bacon in maple syrup for the same effect.
I had the French Toast with banana and crème fresh, and overall the dish was acceptable but needed a more flavorful fruit than banana. I had seen this online with blueberry and think the tartness of a blueberry sauce would have helped this a great deal. Nothing stood out and the cream fresh was much too cold to meld with the toast. One of the sloppier dishes I had on this trip.
Scrambled eggs with biscuit and bacon. More good bacon and the eggs were fine but fell short of Shopsins’, the biscuit was a highlight, rich and flakey at the same time with deep flavor. No butter needed.
Burger and fries. Good burger I guess, great Roquefort cheese. “Fries from Hell” as my son called the shoestring fries, were excellent, but received the moniker due to their springy nature which caused a few fries in every mouthful to catch on the cheeks upon entry and fly across the table.
Deep Fried Poached Eggs with Chorizo Stew. Two eggs on a bed of well-flavored chorizo stew. I would have liked to see another ingredient for balance/contrast (even bread) but it was very good the way it was. Although my son did love it he got palate fatigue and didn’t finish. I would not say it was a must try but maybe close to it just for its uniqueness and the quality of the preparation.
Standouts: yes, everything although the fresh madeleines did not strike me as notable.
I picked up some early morning breads and the only pastries that had come out that morning – little Frenchie Religieuse - and brought them back to the apartment on Saturday. Pure heaven. The breads were still warm when we ate them and I honestly con not remember eating anything better. The croissant was the lightest I’ve had in a long time with the perfect crispness, and the Kouign-amann (DKA) and Cannele de Bordeax were revelations. We also tried Ceci Cela and I thought there was no comparison, Dominique Ansel was far and away better, so much so that I think I may be missing something at Ceci Cela.
As I pointed out in the first post, Dominique Ansel wins as my favorite food of the trip.
1 - Doma na rohu
2 - Excellent French toast at Doma with sometimes gloppy cream cheese
3 - Doma frittata
4 - Pretty much the whole inside of Shopsins
5 - Mommy
6 - Pecan etc French Toast
7 - Last Request
8 - Directions to bathroom taped to giant spatula attached to bathroom key
9 - Spotted Pig French Toast
10 - Fried Poached Eggs with a little help from some fries
11 - Dominique Ansel, Frenchie Religieuse
You ate well in my nabe! (I'm at 7th and Bleecker too.)
How was Doma? I've eaten at the old Doma (which was at Perry and 7th) but not at its new incarnation. Obviously pretty solid for four mornings worth of breakfast!
If you stay in the area again, grab a pizza from John's of Bleecker, buy some beers at the bodega and take it back to your apartment. My favorite pizza in the city, and the only surefire way to avoid the terrible lines.