The Little Owl

by Susan on November 29, 2007

[Food:3/5]

Big expectations loomed before our dinner at The Little Owl and I was admittedly a bit nervous. So many positive reviews have been written, and spoken, of this tiny, West Village eatery.  Would the beloved chef, Joey Campanaro, offer scrumptious dishes that would also have me raving?

Despite a soaring tin-pressed ceiling, this corner restaurant with less than a dozen tables is truly tiny. The space feels cozy and charming; never tight or confined. The service at The Little Owl is just as homey as the atmosphere. The entire staff was welcoming and attentive, making you feel as if you’re dining at an old friend’s house. You can brave walking-in without a reservation (the hostess actually told me this is the way to go, even though it is almost always a 1.5 hour wait). Or, you can call a month in advance to try and secure yourself a table. I did the latter, and was admittedly disappointed when I was unable to add another person to the reservation without significantly altering the reservation time. Apparently we can’t be cozy and spontaneous.

The Meatball Sliders did not disappoint. Three perfectly seasoned, one and three quarter inch spheres, each packed with ground beef, pork, veal, and pecorino cheese each come on their own soft, artisan bun. The meatballs themselves are incredibly moist and the presentation is inventive. Just the right amount of sauce makes these appetizers fun to eat, without a sloppy-joe type mess. I promise, you’ll never look at a meatball the same way again. The Crispy Artichoke, our other starter, paled in a handful of comparisons. Though I loved the placement of a whole fried artichoke heart atop a creamy broth of parmesan and arugula, the encasing breadcrumb batter was so ordinary (we’re talking out-of-a-diner-deep-fryer-ordinary) that it toppled a dish with great potential. Where was the panko? The beer batter? With so many options, I was truly baffled at the staid selection of coating. While the menu claims the broth to be of the lemon-parmesan variety, the taste of citrus was difficult to detect. The smart addition of yellow tomato, however, contributed much needed acid, making the broth worthy of a few bread dips.

The Pork Chop, over two inches thick, was seasoned and cooked expertly. Fennel seeds, which can be overpowering at times, simply kiss the grill marks with both aromatics and taste. The elegant and powerful combination of parmesan, butter beans, shaved fennel, and delicate wild dandelion wilt together into savory goodness. Plates of Crispy Chicken exit the kitchen as frequently as the Meatball Sliders, and though not usually ones to follow the crowd, we ordered it as well. The golden brown skin was so crispy, it might have come out of the fryer. The dark meat was succulent; the white meat was on the dry side. The accompanying mix of brussel sprouts, sweetened with a bit of sherry, and homefries was an ideal autumn mélange.

We were mildly shocked at the Rice Pudding. Both bowl and dessert arrived still frigid from its post-prepared stay in the refrigerator. Spoonfuls emerged from the bowl molded in congealed coldness. The blackberries and cream were nice additions, but the stark absence of creaminess was too much to overcome.

It’s probably a good sign that the artichoke and rice pudding seemed so out of place. I’ll chalk them up to experiments gone awry. Generally, Little Owl did not disappoint. There were some incredibly unique accompaniments, a gorgeous piece of pork, and a starter that we’ll talk about well into the foreseeable future.

The Little Owl
www.thelittleowlnyc.com
90 Bedford Street
New York, NY 10014
(212) 741-4695

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