- Cuisine: French bistro
- Occasion: See-and-be-seen dinner, date, group dinner
- Don’t Miss: Lobster salad, roasted chicken, Minetta burger
- Price: Appetizers, $14; entrees, $20; dessert, $9
- Reservations: Highly recommended
- Phone: (212) 475-3850
- Location: 113 MacDougal St., near Minetta Lane.
When did we become so self-conscious about burgers? I’ll bet that
back in the 1930s, when someone ordered a burger, they ate it and that
was the end of it. They didn’t photograph it or write home about it.
These days, chefs compete for burger bragging rights. They battle
over exclusive access to butchers, prized cattle and prime cuts.
Everybody’s got a burger these days, but Minetta Tavern‘s got two — the $16 Minetta burger and the $26 Black Label burger.
For 26 bucks, that had better be a good burger. The patty had a
nice, crusty exterior, good sesame brioche bun and great bun-to-burger
ratio. The kitchen traditionally tops the $16 Minetta burger with
cheddar, but we requested no cheese for an impartial side-by-side
comparison. It was a heated debate, but my vote went to the Minetta
burger. It had more flavor, more give, more juice on my chin.
The old Minetta Tavern was a place where Ernest Hemingway, Joseph Mitchell and some of the beat artists drank martinis and ate steaks.
People love to make new restaurants look old, and nobody’s better at it than Keith McNally.
Take a look at his body of work — Balthazar, Pastis, Lucky Strike and
Schiller’s Liquor Bar. His palette is oxidized mirrors, rusty brass
trimmings and beaten wood floors.
At Minetta, McNally was working with an antique. He restored the
original wood bar and yellow tin ceilings and kept the black-and-white
photos and murals. Other than the velvet rope around the entrance, it
feels like you’re walking onto the set of a movie taking place in Greenwich Village
circa 1930. The servers dress in black vests and thin ties. A few
nostalgic customers — sporting top hats and curly mustaches — drink
Blood & Sand cocktails and eat veal chops.
McNally partnered with his top Balthazar toques — Lee Hanson and Riad Nasr — to design a bistro menu with French classics and period fare, like Tavern steaks, bone-in New York strip, and Grand Marnier
soufflé. Begin with a Hemingway Daiquiri or a fabulous Dark &
Stormy cocktail, made with a five-spiced infusion, cider, rum and lemon.
The best items on the menu are all Pommes of one sort or another. At
my last supper, I’d want one of the side dishes to be the $8 Aligot — a
divine purée of melted cheese curd, garlic, cream and velvety potatoes.
The dish to order is the Poulet Fermier Rôti — roasted chicken with
vegetables — because it’s served on an aligot bed and the chicken’s
wonderfully moist. The Salade de Homard — a tangy lobster salad with a
celeriac remoulade, green beans, chervil and capers — is also delicious.
But there’s some dullness here, too. The grilled dorade was an
acceptable piece of fish, but the romesco — a classic red pepper sauce
– smelled and tasted musty. The parchment-baked cod with leeks and two
lonely cockles was a bore, and, oddly, so was an entrée of overbreaded
pig’s trotter. For dessert, skip the chalky chocolate soufflé and try
the Chocolate Dacquoise — a chocolate ganache with an exceptional
How can you manage to be nostalgic and of the moment these days? Well, that’s McNally’s forte.