We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: the sure-fire way to earn a multiple star review from The New York Times critic Pete Wells is to serve him simple, understated, and elegant food and expertly-crafted drinks in a subtly cool atmosphere. It worked for Shuko two weeks ago, and this week it proved true once again for their West Village neighbor, Via Carota.
Pete Wells gave Shuko three stars because chefs and business partners Nick Kim and Jimmy Lau are “both young and fluent in several cultures at once, [and] have taken all the preciousness out of omakase and kaiseki dining and replaced it with a relaxed, sophisticated cool.” Seems that there’s an epidemic of this kind of restaurateur-ism happening in the neighborhood, as the critic detailed that Via Carota co-chef and owner “Ms. Williams’s other restaurant, Buvette… is French, and its premise seems to be that everything about France and the French is deeply adorable… Fortunately, while Via Carota has been energetically propped, it avoids the preciousness of Buvette... Best of all, Ms. Williams and Ms. Sodi are cooking deeply appealing food, without mugging.”
Delighted by the absence of posturing on the menu, Wells proceeded to recommend just about everything listed on it. Craving something from the garden? You’re in luck, as the critic described these dishes as “one of Via Carota’s strongholds;” of chef Sodi’s pasta, he proclaimed that her “pastas taste the way they are supposed to taste, the sauces not too complicated or heavily applied, the noodles not too tight and not too flabby;” and the “very good” fried rabbit was “patiently pan-fried.”
Another seemingly-crucial component of a multi-starred dining experience for Wells is a well-mixed drink, and Via Carota delivered the goods. After declaring “the mash of walnuts, honey and lardo that the chefs spread on another crostino” to be so excellently versatile that it “would probably be good sold from a vending machine at the Port Authority,” he playfully corrected himself by countering “But then you would miss the short and no-nonsense list of drinks made from as few ingredients as possible… Or the much longer but still no-nonsense wine list, which covers a lot of ground without letting the prices get too out of hand.”
Simple, understated, and elegant food? Check.
Expertly-crafted cocktails and an affordable wine list? Check.
The last piece of the two- or three-star review formula appears to be probably the hardest to develop and regulate: ambience. Luckily, chef Williams is on top of it, as she has a penchant for “buying antique nail barrels, china hutches, silver teapots, seltzer siphons, porcelain creamers, glazed cheese crocks, woven wood baskets, woven metal baskets and other stuff to fill a restaurant.” The restaurant’s food and location are also critical components to creating this sought-after downtown-hip vine, and Wells promises that you don’t want to “miss the chance to see the West Village take to this restaurant as if it had been around as long as one of Ms. Williams’s olive bowls.” So, subtly cool atmosphere? Check.
Lo and behold: a two-star review for Via Carota from Pete Wells.