December 30th, 2018 Update:
Happy New Year!
How did Via Carota become the most perfect restaurant in nyc? Very simple. They stick to their guns and they deliver. Their menu hasn’t changed much over the years and may even seem boring to some. But its well balanced, and the execution is consistently flawless. It slowly developed into one of my safest recommendations. And the fact that they don’t take reservations made it into an approachable but busy neighborhood darling. Otherwise it could easily turn into another Lilia.
It’s almost fitting that it’s signature dish is something so widely available below 14th, the Cacio e Pepe. It’s amazing how such a simple dish can generate this level of craving. I get asked about it often on my tours. To avoid World War Z last time with the family, I ordered two of them. But for a while it looked like the signature might be the beefy Svizzerina, a lightly seared bunless burger. Its delicious, and may be the most unique item on the menu. But you will want to eat it quickly, before the outer sear cools off.
Other recent highlights include a moister the moist zesty chicken. A perfectly cooked Skate wing with brown butter and capers (seems like all skates are cooked this way but I can’t complain). Succulent Arancini with just enough porky ‘nduja to satisfy the palate. And a Brussels Sprouts salad that will make you like Brussels Sprouts. This Carrot Road, that seems to have no potholes, earns a third star.
March 18, 2017 Post:
When I’m wrong, I’m wrong. When I make a mistake, its usually a big one. After all, I am human, and I need to be loved just like everyone else (as the great Morrisey once put it). Its a rarity for me to come back to a place I didnt love initially, and thankfully it was only a year in this case. Thanks to the power of social media, and foodies whose opinions speak much more volume than the rest of the media, we can now make New York Italian great again.
Another rarity: I’m writing about a place I’ve only dined at solo. When an Italian restaurant with this caliber opens in NYC offering the same great menu all day long, one needs to take advantage during the day. One of the biggest differences between eating in Italy and the US is the disparity between lunches. In Italy, lunch is taken almost as seriously as dinner and in many cases there are no separate menus between lunch and dinner. Since I eat mostly out during lunch, you get extra brownie points for this kind of menu.
But something tells me Rita Sodi and Jody Williams know a lot more about Brownies than I do. Even prior to this at I Sodi and Buvette, they proved they can flat out cook. Mario Batali is a fan. At Via Catota they created the type of corner eatery where you meet your friend for lunch after a long trip in Thailand. The initial hype stemmed from the names involved, was probably unfair for a place like this, but many Villagers took advantage early on. Today, dont be surprised to see the place full during lunch.
Its worth coming back here just for the Funghi. I love a good Mushroom dish, but very rarely I get a dish that speaks to me in this kind of language, Yiddish. Oyster, Maitake, Trumpet and one more I didn’t recognize perfectly grilled with all that wonderful earthiness, on top of smoked grilled Scamorza, with shallot, garlic, and olive oil vinaigrette. A mishegas combination that works oh so beautifully. It could be NYC’s mushroom dish to beat.
Yesterday the Rabbit tasted like a mighty fine fried chicken, with wonderful herby notes throughout. Nicely done, but with the caveat that it may taste very much like chicken when its fried like that. The Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe here is as legit as it gets west of Rome. I preferred it over the popular Pappardelle with wild boar ragu which tasted very average to me on the first visit. Another interesting dish is the fagioli all’ucceletto, a tomatoee stew of beans and sausages.
The rest of the menu is a a vegetarian delight, ranging from the very Tuscan Ribolita to what seems like “best of market” veggies. Regulars pay attention to the rotating array of specials which doesnt leave much room for menu criticism (pasta offerings may seem light at first glance). The most famous dish here is perhaps the Svizzerina, a cross between steak tartare and a rare bunless burger. Will be back with family or friends to this one sooner than later
51 Grove St
Rating: Three Z’s (out of 4)
Stars range from Good to Exceptional. Simple as that
Recommended Dishes: Funghi, Rabbit, Tonnarelli, Fagioli, Svizzerina, Chicken, Arancini, Brussels Sprouts