When a girl leaves town for seven weeks, the City is full of advice for her the moment she returns.
Because she has been known to have an appetite, there is, first and foremost on the minds of many, the issue of where she should eat now. Restaurants have closed and opened in the time she’s been gone, sequestered in the woods of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., finishing a book, making new friends.
“Obviously,” a friend emails, “the Lion in the Village is the place to go.”
And by all accounts, that appears to be right. The West Village restaurant with Waverly Inn chef John DeLucie at the helm and backers like David Zinczenko of Men’s Health magazine has been one of the most breathlessly anticipated new restaurants of spring. In the last few weeks, its private preview dinners have been a Page Six hotbed, reportedly drawing bold-faced names like Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher, Nora Ephron and Mary J. Blige.
The issue, of course, becomes, well, how on earth to get a table? If you aren’t God, Gwyneth Paltrow or Graydon Carter, that is.
On Monday, the very night that it opened, we decided to swing by and try our luck …
The host is polite — but firm in his insistence that a dinner reservation on a Friday night is difficult. But with a little persistence, and inquisitive chatter, and then the startling discovery that the host just happens to have been born in Singapore, too, a dinner reservation on Friday magically appears. And hey, since we are there on opening night, why not stop in for a drink and some snacks?
So we sit, and have a lovely glass of red and, even though we’ve already had dinner — a Malaysian-themed five-courser at the James Beard House, no less — we dig right in.
Oysters appear — Kumamotos ($36 per dozen), soft, small and buttery on the tongue. It is a lovely start — though not as chilled as we’d like. The bed of lettuce, not ice, that the oysters are on warms them up just a smidgen too much. We realize, just a hair too late, that it would have been best to attack them the moment they hit the table.
There is nothing to regret about the roasted baby beets with chevre mousse and hazelnut crumbs ($13) except the fact that it disappears all too quickly. The beets are deliciously fresh, each bite so full of flavor on its own but even better with the chevre and crunchy hazelnut morsels.
The pastas, we had been told, are worth checking out. Pasta Annunziata ($23) comes with chunks of braised octopus and salty guanciale. It looks and sounds potentially heavy but without any heavy sauce on it, the dish ends up feeling, tasting light. Perhaps even healthy.
“Model’s pasta,” my chef friend Simpson, starving from his own night of cooking for 60 at the James Beard House earlier in the night, muses.
The rest of the dishes are less model-esque. A house-made sheep’s milk cavatelli with chevre butter and oregano ($22) is delicious — the pasta is so textured it almost has crunch — but definitely not for dieters.
And the burger ($17) topped with crispy pork belly, caramelized onions and both smoked cheddar and provolone is a hearty combination that’s worth the calories — but just know those calories, a likely insane amount of them, they’re definitely there. (We also adored its tiny jar of pickles on the side.)
The truly unforgettable bites of the night, however, were unexpected — a simple potato gratin ($8) in the tiniest of pans. Incredibly creamy, buttery, salty and rich — we could barely contain ourselves from the first bite. At first, we took tiny, polite forkfuls, letting the gratin sit on our tongues, holding onto that feeling and taste for just a moment. And then desire shoved aside civility; the battle for the final morsels began.
There remains much to be investigated — the Berkshire pork chop with fermented black garlic; the lobster pot pie with brandy cream sauce. But that’s what Friday’s dinner is for.
It’s been a good night — we wander outside. Shortly after, a dark-haired looker and his female companion amble along, striking up a conversation with us.
“You’re that guy,” I say.
“What guy?” he replies, bemused.
“You were on ‘Sex and The City.'”
“No, ‘Gossip Girl’ — I’m the father.”
I am mortified, but he has a good laugh. It is Matthew Settle, who plays Rufus Humphrey on the CW show. Unfazed, he tells me about how he just started in “Chicago” on Broadway, about how much he loves to sing. (He also notes how much he enjoyed the English pea soup ravioli with melted leeks and truffled foam that night at The Lion. I make a mental note to put that on the Friday dinner list.)
The meal, the celebrity sighting — together, it is what The Lion is. It may try to be classic American but it’s really quintessential New York.
It’s all about the moment. And wanting to be in that moment, well before it cools.
The Lion, 62 W. 9th Street, 212.353.8400