Sure, there are enough restaurants here in Washington to keep even the most dedicated diner busy. But a love of good food – and a desire to experience it wherever we go – has led us to all kinds of great restaurants around the world. We’ve already told you about a few of them from time to time.
Starting today, we’re launching a new feature here at Capital Spice – Travel Tuesdays. We’ll be sharing some of our favorite road trip eats, destination dinners and even some international meals. Sometimes we’ll focus on a specific dish or cuisine, other times we’ll offer our dining experiences.
But we often find ourselves gravitating toward the Village. There’s something about the narrow streets that spill into one another and the neighborhood feel that make it our favorite place to stay in the city. It offers an exciting blend of high-end and low-rent restaurants, too…we rarely leave the neighborhood and still find ourselves with too many choices and not enough time.
On our most recent trip to New York, we crossed a few more places of our “to try” list:
This postage-stamp sized corner restaurant in the West Village champions the holy trinity of neighborhood restaurants: intimate, seasonal, and friendly. Needless to say, the combination makes it difficult to get a seat on a prime dining night. After settling into our rented apartment, Mike and I took a quick stroll around the neighborhood and ooohed when we turned the corner to find The Little Owl with – could it be? – tables open on a Friday night. We were seated without a fuss and our timing was impeccable: the restaurant was completely full within 15 minutes.
The space is even lovelier from the inside. Small-top tables benefit from soaring floor to ceiling windows that allowed light to pour in, bathing the lucky few diners in a soft gold evening light. The service lived up to its renown with prompt, friendly attention and happy recommendations on the menu. The menu is not extensive – a handful of entrees and small plates – but focuses on seasonal ingredients of good quality. We started with an appetizer of ricotta cavatelli with fava beans, pecorino cheese, and a rich tomato broth I would have eaten for 3 days straight given the chance. The Pork Chop (named like that on the menu) is a huge, juicy cut of meat that threatens to overwhelm the plate it’s on. And the raspberry beignets were everything a doughnut should be – hot, airy and sugary. The Nutella dipping sauce that accompanied them made a rich dessert absolutely decadent. It was a tremendous meal made even better by the fact that we hadn’t been expecting it.
Check out a few more highlights from Greenwich Village after the jump.
Waverly Inn & Garden
Whether you’re reading about the exploits of the Gossip Girl cast or the most recent edition of “Best Food Writing,” you’ve probably seen something about the Waverly Inn & Garden. This is the home of the $55 white-truffled macaroni and cheese. It’s a mob scene inside and outside, with crowds jammed into a tiny front bar area waiting an hour or more for a table and paparazzi waiting for celebrities to come and go. And it was half a block from the apartment we rented the last time we were in New York.
So how was the food? We couldn’t tell you. But we couldn’t resist the siren song of celebrity, and so we fought our way to the bar to enjoy a couple of cocktails and take in the scene. Not surprisingly, 9 PM on a Friday night was a bit too early to actually catch any A-listers in action, but we were pleasantly surprised by the level of attention that went into the cocktails. The Bourbon Storm, a variation on the classic rum-and-ginger beer Dark & Stormy, blended Maker’s Mark with ginger-infused elderflower liqueur to create a sweet-smoky flavor that was warm and refreshing at the same time. The Waverly Sazerac used all the right ingredients (Sazerac rye, Peychaud’s bitters, absinthe), but it could have used a bit more of that lemon essence that distinguishes the best versions of the New Orleans classic. We may not have had any celebrity sightings (not that night), but we definitely got to see some impressive bartenders in action as they kept that crushing crowd in check.
The New French
When you’re eating your way through a city, brunch can become just as important a meal as lunch or dinner. It’s another chance to check out a restaurant and, if you choose well, it’s an opportunity to catch some places at or near the top of their game. We didn’t know it at the time, but that’s just what we did when we checked out The New French for Sunday brunch.
We arrived rather early, but we were still told that there would be a brief wait for one of the French presses in which they serve their coffee (which we took as a good sign). After a weekend of indulgence, we were both looking for something a little bit lighter – and we found ourselves with plenty of choices. As the name might suggest, The New French focuses on classic techniques and flavors but presents them in a lighter and more accessible way. I ordered a buckwheat crepe filled with smoked salmon and served with a light salad of mixed greens. But Elizabeth’s poached eggs stole the show. They were damn near perfect, and the bright yellow of the runny yolks mingled with the green of her salad and the brown of her roasted potatoes to brighten the dish nicely. Add in a French press full of rich, dark coffee and you’ve got the kind of morning meal that shows off a restaurant in a very positive light.
With a name like that, you know you’re not heading into a white-tablecloth establishment. Cowgirl is the kind of place you go when you want a margarita (or a beer) and a no-frills meal. We used it as a waystation during an afternoon of wandering and window shopping. Taking advantage of the beautiful late-autumn weather, we grabbed a table outside and looked for something light and (relatively) healthy on the menu.
We opted to share a salad known as the “All Chopped Up.” With chicken, bacon, avocado and jack cheese it wasn’t exactly health food, but it did offer us apples, pecans, lettuce, tomato and scallions and a zesty dressing that woke up our taste buds while we rested our feet. Come to think of it, the blood orange frozen margarita may have helped a bit on that front, as well.
Technically, Gray’s Papaya is nothing new for us. On her very first trip to New York, I insisted that Elizabeth join me in that time-honored tradition of sharing a pair of Gray’s dogs and a papaya juice. The fact that they had made an appearance on Sex and the City might have helped me to convince her to give it a try, but since then she’s been a willing conspirator each time I’ve had a late night craving for the thin, spicy hot dogs.
Gray’s Papaya may not be the only game in town when it comes to pairing hot dogs, sweet onions and fruit juices, but it’s been my go-to favorite since I was heading into the city from my home in New Jersey back in high school. They still offer the same “recession buster” special, despite the fact that we’ve been through at least three different recessions since I started visiting. And they continue to slather their dogs in condiments unlike any you’ll find in a DC street vendor’s arsenal. If you’ve ever craved a jumbo slice at 3 in the morning, you know exactly what kind of niche these dogs fill for me. And you know just how good they can be under the right conditions.