Let’s say you can’t get into Eleven Madison Park some evening, or don’t want to pay upward of $500 per person, or maybe don’t like the stuffy atmosphere. Well, have I got a deal for you: the Noortwyck is a handsome but casual restaurant opened last June at 289 Bleecker Street, near Seventh Avenue, that was founded by a pair of Eleven Madison alums, chef Andrew Quinn and sommelier Cedric Nicaise. The name is Dutch for northern territory and it harkens back to the 1600s, when this part of the Village was the northern outskirts of New Amsterdam.
The space itself was a department store long ago, as the beehive tiles on the floor attest. There’s a bar on the left with small tables spilling out onto the street corner, where Bleecker is currently being resurfaced. On a Friday night, hordes of travelers swept back and forth on the sidewalk front of the restaurant, wondering where the subway was, or least trying to find a restaurant not packed at 7 p.m. as the sun sets.
Unless you’re a dedicated people watcher, dive into the cooler and more serene rear room and sit at a curving booth with two or three friends. Dutch or not — the bartender described the food as New American, with Asian influences — the menu partakes of the fussy creativity and magnificent ingredients that characterize Eleven Madison Park, at about one-fifth the expense.
A friend and I were delighted by a baked bao ($21) that might have been bought in a Chinatown bakery, except it was stuffed with shredded duck and served with a small football of foie gras butter. There were crunchies on top and crunchies in the butter, and after finishing the bun we found ourselves scraping up the butter and eating it by itself. But, ‘cmon Noortwyck, give us a bit of bread to finish the job. I have it on good authority that the early Dutch settlers ate lots and lots of bread, so let’s keep the restaurant’s theme alive.
Then there was the standard yellowtail crudo ($17), five or six slivers alternating with slices of pear of the same size and shape, concealed under a layer of shaved fennel, making for a nice rendition of hide and seek. (I wished they provided some bread to sop up that green sauce.) Compared with the first two apps, the wagyu bresaola ($16) disappointed, proving once and for all that the correct response to the word wagyu on a menu is usually to run in the opposite direction. Here, the razor-thin slices were tasty enough, but so soaked in fruity olive oil that overpowered the beef.
The apps didn’t prepare us for the excellent mains, of which there were only six, compared with 10 starters, leading us to assume this was more of a drinking and snacking spot (the bar was fully stocked with amari, fernet, vermouth, and single malts) in the manner of many contemporary upscale restaurants. Were we wrong! One of two pastas offered, linguine al limone ($26) was a good-size serving of freshly made pasta in a bright yellow sauce of lemon, black pepper, and bottarga. While lemon-sauced pasta is perhaps too common these days, the salty and briny fish eggs and tartness of the lemon juice made for a better pasta order than cacio e pepe.
We also went for the evening’s special, a skin-on boxcar of pork belly on a gravel of barely-cooked English peas. The skin was as crunchy as pig skin can get: the fatty flesh as tender as tender can be, and the peas so perfectly flavored.
Let me pause for a moment in the forward progress of our meal to praise the wines. There are 16 by-the-glass selections in six categories from France, Italy, Spain, Austria, and California, many agreeably priced in the mid-teens. The whites are particularly strong, and I enjoyed a crisp greenish arneis ($14) from Piedmont, while my friend picked a lively and floral chenin blanc ($16) from the Loire Valley.
We were pretty full already when dessert rolled around, but we shared a mascarpone rice pudding with a scoop of omija tea sorbet perched on top ($12). The sweet finish left us wanting to return to the Noortwyck sooner than later, as the dust of Bleecker Street rose up to greet us upon exiting.