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The Little Owl

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The Little Owl

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Address: 90 Bedford St (Grove St)
City: New York, NY
Zip: 10014
Phone: (212) 741-4695
Site: Visit the restaurant site
Map: Map
Cuisine: American
2nd Cuisine: Mediterranean
Area: West Village
Entree Price: $20-25



Something occurred to me while dining at Little Owl that often slips my mind while eating at Megaplex feeding huts like Nobu 57, Buddakan and Spice Market. It was a thought that went beyond how wonderful chef Joey Campanaro’s food was, and how graciously (almost lovingly) partner and manager Gabriel Stulman welcomes guests to their petite postage stamp-as-restaurant. What I felt while eating at The Little Owl was the same feeling I had the first time I had dinner at Tia Pol, at El Bocadito, at Little Giant, and Lassi, and at spots like The Tasting Room and Extra Virgin when they first opened. It was the feeling of watching someone’s dream come true. It was this overwhelming notion that everyone of us sitting at one of The Little Owls’ eight tightly spaced tables—passing platters of glossy slices of Spanish cured ham, pulling plump saucy meatball sliders off plates (staining cheeks and skirts), and fighting over the last bits of asparagus home fries—was participating in a real life dream come true of two young and wildly talented forces in our industry. It’s rare when dining out to think about the effort and the time and the years of planning that go into opening a restaurant. Why should you really? Your mission is to enjoy your food, your wine, your experience. But once in a while you get it. You get that this is the culmination of days on end of dreaming, planning, hoping, and saving. You feel the love, the joy and the energy of the culmination of that dream in the grace of your meal. And that’s what struck me at the Little Owl. It was part awe, part honor, and part deep respect, but mostly—and I know this is sappy, but what can I say, I am a complete sap—it just made me feel really good. And, as it turned out, the food helped keep those good vibrations going all night long. This dream has the goods to back it up. Joey Campanarao, as many of you know, was the longtime chef at The Harrison, and then was the opening chef at Pace (which is now the dreadful Mr. Chow). His culinary touch harkens to his Italian-American heritage; he favors dishes prepared with that minimalist Italian sensibility, food that is rooted in the simple beauty of the season’s ingredients and that is seasoned so well that the notion of added salt or pepper is comical. On my first night there, the restaurant was already packed, which is a constant issue because the place has only 27 seats. Though small, it is a great looking little room—a cozy corner spot marked by blond wood, a tiny bar and tall wood-framed windows that open onto the kitchen. Despite its perpetual crowded state, Gabriel has a knack for hospitality and will make you feel like sticking around even when the wait is over an hour and the humidity threatens to melt you to a puddle within thirty minutes. (On warm nights, the A/C in there needs a steroid injection.) You’ll have a glass of prosecco, or perhaps a cocktail (or five), and you’ll feel just fine. On that first night, with my friend David, we started with the pan-roasted sardines ($8), silvery and pungent fillets dressed with a frisky lemon and chile vinaigrette and a marvelous salad of roasted cauliflower and snow peas. Then came the gravy meatball sliders ($9)—an appetizer that caused a wave of joy in the restaurant similar to one in the bleachers out at Shea. As they were set on our table, guests in every one of the restaurants 27 seats stood up and oohed and aahed and promptly signaled their waitress to order them. The sliders are served in mini homemade garlic Parmesan buns, one jolly saucy veal-beef-pork meatball per pup. People, these are the meatball’s answer to the pig in the blanket; they are delicious and way too much fun. The pork chop ($19) is a signature dish and its size alone is quite impressive; it is prehistoric in girth. But it’s not all about the size. This big boy is tasty too. It is juicy and smacked with flavor, and is plated with creamy butter beans the size of quarters drawn in Parmesan butter and wild dandelion greens dressed with lemon and olive oil. Could not be simpler, or better. (If you have a dog, he will love you forever if you share your leftovers.) The grilled New York strip steak ($25) is also a mammoth portion of beefy buttery amply seasoned meat, served with quick sauté of radicchio, pancetta and balsamic that is shamelessly bold. If you are a fan of quiet little flavors this is not the steak for you. This one is a big bossy baritone. The second night at The Little Owl, with my friend Dan, was less of a carnivore’s evening, but no less enjoyable. We started with a bowl of ricotta cavatelli ($11), tender little pinky fingers of light and fluffy ricotta dumplings buoyed by a tomato broth stocked with smoky hunks of bacon and rounded out with fat and fabulous fava beans. This may be the best eleven bucks you can spend on a bowl of pasta in New York City. The crispy chicken ($17) was somewhere between Southern fried and cooked under a brick—the skin was lightly fried, crunchy and spiced up with just right flash of salt pepper and heat, and the meat, well, it was to your average chicken what an iPod is to an eight track. The chicken is paired up with a side called asparagus home fries—home fries tossed with celery salt, cayenne, pepper, and lean lengths of asparagus. Delicious. The broiled Chatham cod ($18)—super glossy alabaster flesh—was topped with pesto vinaigrette and paired with a rustic corn salad made from rows of corn shaved fresh from the cob, and firm sweet green peas. It was simple and spectacular. Same goes for the halibut ($23), which was roasted and served rather modestly on a mound of chive-stocked mashed potatoes in a thunderbolt of a sauce made from lemon, veal stock and crème fraiche. Bring on the aria. I know this is sort of a dull review to read because I do not have a bad word to say about the menu or the service or the entity that is The Little Owl other than it is too small. But its size does add to its charm. So yes, The Little Owl is a new favorite restaurant. It appeals to me first and foremost because Joey’s food rocks. Then it gets me ‘cause of the energy—for its soul—the heartfelt welcome you get from Gabriel when you dine there. But then, I also like it because it is a dream come true for these two young men. And while my job here is review a restaurant’s food, I think it’s appropriate, once in a while, to take a moment to appreciate more than the food, and to acknowledge the effort and the dreams and the hard work of someone’s accomplishments. The Little Owl is a little pocket-sized miracle for Joey and Gabriel. And when you eat at The Little Owl, you can’t help but feel a part of it, and that feels really good. And that my friends, is the reason we are here, and the reason we dine out.

Review By: Andrea Strong