This week Pete Wells reviewed two restaurants which he aptly describes as “tiny titans.” Though both Mr. Donahue's and Ruffian Wine Bar & Chef's Table are both quite small, Wells is a fan of both, awarding two stars and one star to each restaurant, respectfully. Wells likens walking in to Mr. Donahue's to stepping “into one of the little lunch counters with unpremeditated décor that used to be found in this part of town before it was called NoLita.”
At this small venue, there are five main courses offered, along with your choice of two sides and a sauce at no extra cost. Well describes this dining fashion as one that isn't something we're supposed to want anymore and goes on to explain that, “Maybe that’s why, when I got my chicken-fried pork cheeks with Swiss chard and crab imperial, I was filled with gratitude.”
Wells seems to experience a sense of nostalgia when describing the food. He elaborates his feelings upon tasting the food, stating that, “The chard was cooked with a little garlic and lemon and bread crumbs. The crab tasted of mayonnaise and Tabasco and had been browned and warmed inside a heavy foil dish in the shape of a crab shell. I spread it on saltines from a crinkly cellophane wrapper and ate it with the sensation of having found something I’d lost such a long time ago that I’d forgotten about it.”
Wells also enjoyed the the “tender and juicy” pork cheeks and savored the “fine sauce of button mushrooms and Marsala” it came with. He continues his positive review by giving praise to the “heroic slab of roast beef,” which was “thoroughly rosy except at the edges, where it had a salty, crunchy, herb-flecked crust.”
Given Wells review, it seems that though he genuinely liked the food, perhaps the nostalgia shed a more somber light on the dining experience as a whole. He surmises, “Cheap nostalgia hands you a fake past to make you smile. True nostalgia is mixed with pain because it conjures a past that was real and isn’t coming back.”
Ruffian Wine Bar & Chef’s Table is a bit bigger than Mr. Donahue's, but nevertheless a tight squeeze for the two chefs Josh Ochoa and Andy Alexandre. Wells describes the cheese soufflé as a “tower of soft scrambled eggs,” which makes for “a lush spread for toast darkened with a swirl of balsamic vinegar.” Another standout is the lentil salad, though he had no expectations of it being that good. “It’s one of the best things on the menu. A variety of lentils and other legumes are firm, separate, not at all mushy, seasoned with dried chiles and curry leaves, swirled with yogurt sauce, and sprinkled with crisp threads of sev, the chickpea-flour snacks.” he goes on to say that, “Suddenly, dull old lentil salad is an exciting Indian street festival.”
According to Wells, drinking wine here is something that shouldn't be passed up. He asserts that “you’re here to drink wine from a list that evidences Mr. Cournot’s open-minded curiosity.” With a selection of wines from the natural wine movement, and other choices which “show an independence from the latest trends,” like a violet-scented pinot noir from Chile, it seems as though getting adventurous with your choice of beverage here is encouraged.To read the complete review, click here.For more New York City dining and travel news, click here.