Situated on Macdougal street in historic Greenwich Village, The Minetta Tavern was a hangout of Kerouac, Hemingway, Ezra Pound and various other literary figures in the years that made the village famous. The area has long gone from bohemian to boho, as is usual with cities the rents go up and artists move out, but it remains a lovely place to stroll around on a crisp, clear New York day. So it’s good to see this historic joint still surviving, now somewhat re-invigorated, by legendary NY restauranteur Keith McNally and his partners Riad Nasr and Lee Hanson. Their most famous creation is Balthazar, often cited as the best everyday restaurant in the city, an iconic french bistro that is a must-visit for anyone interested in food. The Minetta is perhaps their most raved about operation since that opened, with a 3 star NY times review calling it ‘the best steakhouse in the city.’
It certainly looks the part, we entered through red curtains, into a timeless interior, walls dotted with caricatures of the famous patrons, a dark wood bar inhabited by some cheery barmen and the staff, tables and everything but the dull light of the till system screens dressed up in classical french bistro fashion. I wouldn’t have been surprised to have seen Hemingway himself drawling at the bar, knocking back pernod, but that might be just be because the whole vibe reminded me of the places Owen Wilson travels back in time to in the last, surprisingly decent, Woody Allen film, Midnight in Paris, where he does indeed rub shoulders with hilarious parodies of Papa, Fitzgerald and Dali. Anyway we had cocktails, including what had been suggested to us as the best Bloody Mary in New York (they weren’t wrong) a Gin Blossom and for me, an extremely well mixed Murray Sour.
We sat at an excellent round table, a luxury for a table of eight, we were crammed in, but it felt fine amid the hustle and bustle of a busy room. Our waitress was extremely French and the service here generally was a little more formal than we’d got used to in New York, not entirely my bag, but certainly not bad. The all French wine list reflected the status of Mcnally’s restaurants as something of a hangout for the rich and famous, they didn’t have anything under about £40. The wine we did get was lovely, as you’d expect.
I had bone marrow to start, having had it just once before at Hawsmoor’s breakfast to share. It was better here, the marrow was rich, buttery and intense, paired with crispy baguette ‘soldiers’ and a delicious shallot confit. As you can see it looks pretty primal, but it tasted as rich as foie gras and is a lot more ethical. Anthony Bourdain has long called St John restaurant’s classic roasted bone marrow and parsley salad his favourite dish of all time, I haven’t tried that yet…. But this version was one of the most enjoyable starters I’ve eaten.
We also tried an excellent salt cod brandade, a pretty good roast baby beets and a mesclun salad (above) with warm goats cheese, that was a little sparing on the goats cheese (but giving with the leaves).
For the main I continued with the meat theme and went for the $26 black label burger, recommended to me as the best burger in New York and worth checking out just to see how a burger can cost £20. This burger has been well thought out in it’s creation, a mix of prime cuts of Pat La Frieda’s dry aged beef, the composition of which is a closely guarded secret, but includes rib eye, skirt steak and brisket on a specially created brioche bun made at the Balthazar bakery. There is a fairly exhaustive guide of the process behind creating this burger here, which details how this burger is treated something akin to a £40 steak and this context makes the whole thing seem a little less expensive.. I was pretty absorbed in eating it, so we didn’t get a picture, this one is stolen from Serious Eats.
The dry-aging of the beef really does make a difference to the taste and this burger had a tasty funk beyond any beef I’d eaten before. It was garnished with caramelized onions and fries that were indistinguishable from the ones we got at Balthazar later in the week, i.e. fantastic. It was a little let down by a lack of seasoning and a soggy bun, but overall it was still wholly enjoyable. We also had classically french crisp pigs trotters with Dijon mustard and lentils dish, a tavern steak that had my aunt in raptures, trout fillet meuniere and roast chicken that was like the burger, under seasoned, but did come with excellent Robuchon-like mash.
We did get one bargain here, a surprisingly cheap bottle of sherry on the wine list, $16 for a 500ml bottle of La Gitana manzanilla. It was such a bargain it was probably a mistake on the menu and though the french waitress insisted otherwise I wonder if it’s still on the menu at that price. Most of us couldn’t manage dessert, but the two that could had the pots du creme, rich custard puddings: coffee, vanilla and chocolate, simple, delicious and very french.
The Minetta is a classy joint, it hasn’t lost the character for which it was originally famous, but it has gained some very good cooking and a new lease of life. Our meal wasn’t faultless, but in such an exciting bustling environment it was extremely enjoyable, hopefully they’ll keep the $16 sherry deal or add some more affordable wines, but I don’t think either are likely.
Keith McNallys long mooted opening of a restaurant in London is supposed to be happening this year. Recent rumours suggest that it’s actually going to more like the Minetta than the Balthazar copy originally talked about, a decision which might be fortuitous. Especially if they serve the bone marrow.
Afterwards we stumbled down some steps opposite the Minetta, through a black door with a rabbit sketched on it in chalk. We weren’t going down the rabbit hole, but we were going into the 124 old rabbit club, a ‘secret’ bar I’d read about (a contradiction in terms, perhaps.) It was pretty much a cellar, turned into a subterranean bar with a large selection of rare and obscure bottled beers, a few draft options and a small but good wine offering. It was the perfect place to wind down after the grandeur of the Minetta and worth a visit in it’s own right. The barman was wearing a Coke Bust t-shirt and was friendly and knowledgeable, he pointed me both to an excellent belgian wit bier and to a ‘goth party’ on the next night which we didn’t end up going too, not goth like goth, goth. Goth like you and me goth. It was another excellent night in New York.