Based on several recent visits to newly opened restaurants, I’d have to say my meals have been getting shorter, more expensive, and weirder as far as the food goes. At Foul Witch I feasted on grilled goat neck, while at Etrusca I ate pasta sheets sprinkled with lemon, lavender, and chamomile. At Tatiana, I wolfed down a chopped cheese sandwich covered with shaved black truffles. You get the idea — many dishes these days seem invented for the sake of novelty or sometimes downright Instagram-loving strangeness.
Which brings us to a meal a friend and I shared last weekend. The venue was newcomer Carriage House at 142 West 10th Street, just west of 4th street in Greenwich Village. Located in a brownstone built in 1886 with an altered facade featuring a hobbit-like arched window and entrance, the venue has been many things over the years. In the ’70s it was French restaurant Casey’s, where Charles Mingus played a jazz brunch, and subsequently became Bar Blanc, The Place on West 10th, then Lowcountry, followed by Louro, which closed due to a rent hike. After that, for eight years the storefront remained a papered-over eyesore. It has never been a carriage house as far as I can tell.
The chef is Jordan Andino of nearby Philippine taco spot Flip Sigi, and owners include Philip Testa of Tao and Chris Maier of Employees Only. The place has been handsomely renovated, with globe lights hanging over a white-marble bar accented with vases of apple blossoms; beyond that is a darker larger room with the kitchen on view through an arched window. Dramatic arches are everywhere.
But back to the kooky food. First to arrive was a butter candle: a cube of composed butter with a wick sticking out that the waiter sets aflame with a plastic Bic. He promised it would melt in 10 seconds into a dippable pool, but five minutes later, the candle was still burning, so my dining companion and I began scraping the candle and spreading the butter on the bread provided. The butter was delicious and the bread basket gloriously free.
The meal was just as surprising as the night unfolded. Next to arrive, was a trio of toasts topped with berry jelly and crushed peanuts. Priced at $17, it might have been just an expensive peanut butter sandwich, except that underneath was a layer of chicken-liver mousse. Had I been a kid in an elementary school lunchroom, I would have traded it with a classmate for something else.
Dishes are divided into small, medium, and large; and when they say small, they mean small, including five pommes pave ($5 to $9). These pinky size servings of layered potatoes constitute less than a single bite each. We tried three toppings: scallop with lemon whipped cream, slivered mushrooms with a shaving of ricotta salata, and tuna with sesame and nori. It occurred to me this might usher in a new era of Lilliputian dining in which all components of a meal are miniaturized and diners use tiny utensils.
We enjoyed a massive salad ($27) of juicy ripe heirloom tomatoes, green beans, crumbly ricotta, and lettuces slicked with a nice vinaigrette. But amorphous pink shapes clung to the sides of the salad like mutant stormclouds hovering around a mountain peak. The clouds turned out to be yogurt whipped with sundried tomatoes. We loved it and ate every morsel.
I’d actually picked this restaurant out of dozens of others that had opened recently because there was a steak on the menu for $86, and I wondered: Could it possibly be worth it? More specifically, it was 12 ounces of wagyu skirt steak, which sounds fancy until you realize that a skirt steak is a cut of beef usually from the cow’s diaphragm and thus can be tough, despite great flavor. But wouldn’t the fact that it is wagyu make it automatically tender? Well not in this case, where every bite included a taste of well-seared crust paired with a fatty wad of beef that took a lot of chewing. So, no, it wasn’t worth it. (It’s a menu outlier at nearly double the price of the next most expensive main, the peri peri bird that’s $45. But compared to the three-ounce wagyu strip from, say, Bowery Meat Company for $98, or wagyu that starts at $34 an ounce at Cote, it’s not crazy expensive in the world of wagyu.)
I ended up spending $220 for a meal for two with one drink each, for dishes that seemed intentionally novel, and not necessarily in a good way. Though the service was adept and the restaurant didn’t encourage us to leave (many restaurants seem to be imposing time limits on a meal), in 40 minutes our meal was over — and we found ourselves walking into the setting sun on West 10th Street.