Tuesday, September 1, 2009

When a Newbie Gets it Right: Joseph Leonard

In my opinion, a new restaurant needs about 6 months to find its groove and settle into greatness. So it was with trepidation that I suggested Joseph Leonard as the meeting spot for a quick dinner with a friend. Only about a month old, the place has gotten tons of buzz thanks to its association with Market Table and Little Owl (manager) and Bouchon Bakery (chef) which can sometimes kill a place with unrealistic expectations. Nevertheless, I liked the place as soon as I stepped into its very small, corner spot on Waverly. It screamed "antique farmhouse charm" with its black and white "ancestral" portraits, old clocks and wooden chairs and bars. The open kitchen added to the home-y feel and cramped though we were at the bar, it all worked.

Everything on the menu was straightforward and simple, including the cocktails. Rye Tea was just that...Rittenhouse rye + ice tea with a lemon. The Cherry Lane was a blend of sweet vermouth, dry vermouth, brandied cherry topped with a rose champagne floater. Simple and elegant. The food selection was just right, with a good balance of meat, fish, starters, entrees. The duck rillette in a tiny mason jar sounded interesting but was a bit dry...the grilled bread upstaged the duck itself. The peach and arugula salad with almonds was an excellent way to showcase the in season fruit. For entrees we couldn't resist the crispy braised pork hock, which essentially was a hunk of pork shank, slow cooked till it's about the fall off the bone, and flash fried to create the crispy skin. The seared arctic char was cooked just right with wax beans. The dessert selections were disappointing on paper, with a bland array of basics like carrot cake (looked dry) and cookie plate. So we went with the special of the night: salted caramel pudding and we hit the jackpot...silky smooth and not too sweet, it's one I hope they choose to keep on the menu as a permanent item. It's the same way I felt about the guinness chocolate mousse at Alias on the Lower East Side: a very good excuse to return for another meal.

The one word that really came to mind as I finished the meal at this value add new addition to the West Village is this: unfussy. These days, having a simple, good meal with friendly unrushed service is really a rare pleasure in NYC. This one's a keeper.

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