Saturday, June 14, 2008

Eating out: Little Owl

Jon and I have wanted to eat at Little Owl for ages, and Jon tried for weeks to get us a reservation at a good time. Finally, a month or so ago, he lucked into an 8 pm table for this past week, and so we went. It's more than we used to spend for dinner on anything but a special occasion, but we've decided that it's only really worth eating out when we can have truly incredible food (or incredible company).

After work on the first cool evening following a serious heat wave, we walked from our apartment across the 6th Avenue gauntlet of frat boy sex shops and rainbow-flagged cafes to the still-charming inner reaches of the West Village. The Little Owl sits on the corner of Bedford and Grove, in a glass-walled space under the watch of a small sculpted owl that perches on the roof of the building across the street.

We decided that the best way to explore the menu was to share three appetizers and an entrĂ©e. The soft-shell crab at Tabla has newly converted me to a fan, and we couldn't resist trying Little Owl's version. They split all three appetizers between us, and plated them in a row on long rectangular plates. The crab was perfectly crisp, with tender flesh peeking out of every crevice, and it stood, statuesque, above a reflecting pool of perfect asparagus risotto, attended by a few cherry tomatoes, cooked to the bursting point. The cavatelli arrived in a small dish, filled to the brim with tomato broth, covered with favas, bacon, and ricotta. I've been excited about trying it since its mention – and gorgeous masthead photo – in the Times article about ricotta. The third dish was perhaps chef Joey Campanaro's most famous creation – meatball sliders, sandwiched between homemade cheese rolls. The photo and recipe in New York Magazine gave us no choice.

Beyond the appetizers, we opted for the special, a generous portion of blackfish on a mound of chive mashed potatoes with truffles and caramelized onions. It was wondrously flaky, and earthy with all the alliums and truffles.

Afterwards, we figured our restraint in the alcohol department merited reward – in the form of a strawberry rhubarb crumble. The slightly sour rhubarb dominated the berries, but a heaping scoop of near-orgasmic mascarpone gelato kept all the flavors in balance. In short, Little Owl blew our expectations out of the water.


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