I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: It’s not easy to find a restaurant that can pull off great food and a great scene. There are excellent exceptions, like Minetta Tavern and The John Dory, but most of the time, it’s nearly impossible. But once in awhile a restaurant comes along and nails it, like The Darby did. In fact, The Darby is easily one of the most exciting and entertaining restaurants in Manhattan. How many other restaurants can boast a six-piece house band and DJ that play nightly? This modern day supper club located in the West Village (in the former Nell’s space) is the work of Scott Sartiano and Richie Akiva (of Butter fame), both well versed in the art of the scene and drawing a celebrity crowd.
But the real hook here is what’s coming from the kitchen. The menu is classic American with a serious raw bar, pre-prohibition cocktails and retro fare, like Oysters Rockefeller, a Waldorf Salad, and Lobster Newburg for two. The chef behind the menu is Alex Guarnaschelli who also oversees the menu at Butter. Better known as the host of Alex’s Day Off and a judge on Chopped, Guarnaschelli proves she’s not “just a tv chef” at The Darby. Far from it. She cures her veal “bacon” in house (it’s thick-cut and to-die-for), serving it alongside a homemade red mustard and makes her pillowy soft ricotta in the kitchen as well.
The menu is studded with standout dishes, like a luxe surf & turf with spicy shrimp draped over an incredibly juicy filet and delicate sweet potato ravioli, seasoned with chili flakes and parmesan. There’s a terrific smoked duck breast with peppercorns and though I typically shy away from the ubiquitous tuna tartare, Guarnaschelli reinvents this classic with an earthy injection of mushrooms and hazelnuts. But my favorite dish is the Colorado rack of lamb (pictured above). It’s seared to perfection and drizzled with an insanely delicious and vibrant mix of green olives and mint, mingled with raw onions for added crunch and bite. The tartness of the fresh green olives does wonders to offset the richness of the lamb and liven up the meat and so does the artful drizzle of dijon mustard on the plate. The combination of flavors and textures makes for one vibrant and juicy, yet somehow, herbaceous lamb dish.
Address: 244 West 14th St., btwn 7th & 8th Aves.