Minetta Tavern is not in the heart of the posh, charming tree-lined streets of the West Village. This came to me as a refreshing surprise, as we all know the West Village has become one of the most coveted and highest-rent districts in Manhattan. The restaurant is situated on MacDougal Street on Minetta Lane, near NYU, surrounded by comedy clubs, underground music venues, kitschy tarot card and Tibetan Buddhist shops. Although late on the uptake, I was thrilled to be taken to one of the city’s most sought-after dinner destinations.
It has been called one of the most influential restaurants in the past six years, by New York Magazine. First opened in 1937, it’s reiteration was re-vamped in 2008, billed as a “revival” and not a first rate production. Lived in, worn, with class, it certainly does not feel like a “redo.” A real celebrity, model and mogul haunt, the place is cramped but swarming with buzz and excitement. You would expect staff to be rude, haughty and arrogant. However, immediately after walking in the door we felt like guests of honor.
The walls are lined with old pictures of New York’s rich, famous, and days past. Caricatures and drawings are hung an assortment of antique frames. The décor is aged to perfection, just like the beef.
The bone-in New York Strip is gargantuan, but grilled to perfection, complemented with a lovely mâche salad. For starters Minetta is serving some of the most expertly aged, flavorful and exquisitely prepared prime beef in New York. Lookout Peter Luger and Sparks! The Côte De Boeuf for two is noted as delicious and the sides are really good too. On a healthier note, the carrots are delicious and quite mild, with a nice herb flavor. Not too much butter either.
If you cannot get a reservation, eat at the bar. It’s worth the wait and because you will be lingering, go ahead and pre-order the Pommes Frites as a starter to share. In true Parisian form, they are served in a silver tin cup wrapped in paper – crunchy, salty and addictive – with mayonnaise, unless you ask for the ketchup.
Minetta serves several variations of Pommes – “Anna”, “Aligot” or “Punched.” If you order their famous “Black Label Burger” it comes with the French fries. The specials are worth trying. The evening we went, we started out with the “Seafood Sausage” – served on a bed of greens. The sauce melts in your mouth and if the timing is right, you should have some pommes left over to lap up the remaining juice. If you are not a carnivore, there are plenty of fish, vegetarian and pasta dishes.
The wine list is heavy on the French, but like the rest of the menu, very international. After starting with the pink Champagne – an esoteric choice called “Crémant De Loire Rose” by Yves Lambert, NV – I’d recommend one of their cocktails – the “Rhubarb Sophie” was a 20’s style throwback, served with 42 Below Vodka, cucumber, agave nectar, rhubarb bitters and fresh lime.
I never made it to the desserts, after the satisfaction of my dinner. Some of the specialties are brought over from Balthazar Bakery, which looked amazing. I hear the chocolate dacquoise is worth the dive.
Keith McNally is a genius. Hailing from North London, his first restaurant was The Odeon, which opened over 30 years ago, with a brasserie menu and martinis mixed to perfection. There were several other legendary establishments in between- Café Luxembourg, Pravda, and then Pastis opened in 1999. I remember the excitement of when it first opened. I had just moved to New York City, pre 9/11. We drank Bordeaux and smoked Gitanes at the bar. It was the place to be. Those were the Sex and the City days, before smart phones. We just knew where to show up and meet, late night on a Thursday. Always a great crowd and always-great food, it still has the vibe.
All of Keith’s places have a vibe. It is the food, the ambiance. I think it’s the fact that nothing is too complicated. I’d recommend hitting Minetta soon. Fashion Week is upon us and would definitely be a good time to descend. It may be a sea of black clad dressed patrons, but the personality is colorful, energy is vibrant and the food is worth the wait. Bravo Keith – I was late to the party, but glad I went sooner rather than later.
113 MacDougal Street, between Bleecker and West 3rd Street