top 100: minetta tavern

minetta tavern

From the outside you wouldn’t notice much of anything about the 75-year old Minetta Tavern has changed. The Greenwich Village hangout of writers, poets, and pugilists looks much the same as ever: frozen in time on a shoddy corner of MacDougal Street and Minetta Lane, it’s louvered storefront windows creating the perfect redoubt for all sorts of layabouts and hangers-on. Inside, however, restaurateur Keith McNally along with chefs Riad Nasr and Lee Hanson have meticulously updated the interiors and the menu, transforming the formerly down-at-heel hideaway into the hottest French steakhouse in town. It’s six o’clock on a Saturday night and behind the velvet curtains – ropes being so last century – the joint, as they say, is jumpin’. This is Keith McNally after all, the man behind such landmark restaurants as Odeon, Nell’s, Pravda, Balthazar, and Pastis. So acute is his gravitational pull he can snatch chefs away from Daniel. His premonition of the zeitgeist so unerring that you find yourself in his establishments suddenly desirous of foods you didn’t know you wanted until Keith came along and showed the way. Clubby, convivial, Minetta Tavern lets you in on a secret: French food, in all its unpretentious, butter-laden, robustly flavored glory, is back. This is no wannabe brasserie, it’s a steakhouse-cum-tavern, which means the service is efficient and the bread comes cold. You want roasted marrow bones? Prepare for a platter that would have satisfied Fred Flintstone: three enormous what-look-like-femurs, split, roasted then broiled, with baguette soldiers and shallot confit. How about a simple roast beet hors d’oeuvre?  Brace yourself for a Pleistocene portion fettered with leeks, French walnuts and enough Vermont chevre that Barney and Betty Rubble would have no trouble sharing. Thankfully entrees are a bit more demure: a special of skate wing with cumin and roasted vegetables is warm, savory and as rich as meuniere; that classic of bourgeois cookery, blanquette de veau, is fork tender and served without a smirk on a bed of rice; a grilled whole dorade is simple with fennel and charred lemon without being Spartan. And if ever you’ve toyed with the idea of pre-ordering a souffle, this would be the place to do it. The luscious liaison of humble eggs and Grand Marnier arrives at the table as plump and inviting as a pinata, turning grown men and women into spoon-wielding children. Two smart sides must be singled out for Proustian praise, too: the choux farci, which will change they way you think about a humble cabbage roll, and the heretofore unknown pommes aligot, a variant of mashed potato infused enough cheese and butter to qualify it as the food equivalent of flubber. You don’t so much scoop it out of a cocotte as ladle it out in silky, elastic ribbons. It’s a solid that behaves like a liquid – and surely the only mashed potato I’ve ever encountered that warranted being eaten with both a knife and a spoon. Once upon a time I couldn’t have imagined wanting pommes aligot. Now I can’t bear to think of a life without it. Typical.

roasted marrow bones

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