The Waverly Inn
16 Bank St (Waverly Pl)
City: New York, NY
Phone: (212) 243-7900
Site: Visit the restaurant site
Chef: Eric Korsh
2nd Cuisine: Comfort Food
Area: Greenwich Village
At this point, you’ve probably heard all there is to hear about The Waverly Inn, Graydon Carter’s snug and cozy American restaurant in the old Ye Waverly Inn space. While the restaurant isn’t even technically open yet—the menu still reads “Preview”—it’s been serving since early January, and it’s the “who” that the restaurant has been serving that’s been getting most of the press. The place is overrun with celebrities, a first rate collection of politicians, movie-makers, actors, journalists, athletes, models, artists, and the like. Sadly, commoners like us don’t really get to eat at The Waverly unless either you (a) know Mr. Carter or one of his people, (b) know the chef, John DeLucie, (c) know someone in six degrees of separation of these two men, or (d) stop by on an off night at an early time and try to snag a table from Emil, the “host.” (I use the term “host” loosely. He’s not the friendliest of folks.) Yes, there’s now a published phone number but the tables you will be offered will be 6:30 or 10:30 (if at all). More often, you will be offered nothing. The fact that you may not be able to get a table at The Waverly Inn is truly sad because the food is quite spectacular and it should be shared so that it can be adored by many, not few.
Indeed, when dinner begins with a basket of steaming hot homemade biscuits that you may (and by all means should) slather with whipped honey butter, who cares that you are eating feet from Jennifer Connelly? When a gorgeous fillet of Dover sole ($39) is cooked so that its flesh is flaky and moist to the point of being almost creamy, who really cares that Carly Simon is signing CDs as she leaves? When the fish is served with a bright beautiful buttery and yet somehow delicate lemony hollandaise sauce, and haricot verts that are snappy, fresh, and vibrant and make you consider an all string bean diet, does it matter that Walter Cronkite is dining in the Solarium by the fire? I think not.
So the shame of The Waverly Inn is that Graydon Carter has opened a terrific restaurant—the room is snug and warm, I’d say English manor house chic—that is not in the real sense of the word, “open” to the public. Craig and I were talking about my review of the restaurant this morning and he made a point that I am thinking of now, as I write this: “How can you write a review of a restaurant where no one can eat at?” He’s right. How can I? Well, I guess because I want to, and because I do feel it is part of my job to keep up on the latest restaurant world has to offer, and this certainly qualifies. And I guess I also have some faint hope that the Waverly’s policy will change and that the restaurant will open its doors to all who’d like to come in and stay for dinner, as I did last week with Jamie, Adrienne, and Susie (after a phone call to the chef, John DeLucie, who is, in full disclosure, a friend).
The Waverly Inn was my first choice of where to take Susie—one of my closest friends who’s been living and working in Rome for the past year—for our reunion dinner; we hadn’t all been together since our trip to Italy in October. I wanted something cozy and fun with a buzz, and I wanted it to serve great food of the sort she might not find in Rome. The Waverly, I thought, would be the perfect choice. And for once, I was right.
We walked in from the cold and into the low-ceilinged bar room, an English tavern-styled space that was packed with wall-to-wall with beautiful people who spent most of their time looking around at other people wondering who was more famous and/or important than they. We chatted a bit in the holding pen/bar and were then escorted to a four-top in front of an old marble fireplace in the main dining room. We ordered a bottle of wine from a list that ranges from $40 to $2000 a bottle (We had a $50 Crozes Hermitage) and perused the menu, and noticed the following phrase at the bottom of the cream colored page: “All drinking and cooking water is reverse osmosis.” I’d never seen this on a menu before, and we summoned our waiter, a handsome chap who looked like Maxwell, for an explanation. “Reverse osmosis is a filtration system that basically removes all the bad stuff from the water and then puts the good stuff back in,” he said. “Wow, that’s great,” Susie said. “But wouldn’t it be nice if we could reverse osmosis our bodies and our bosses?” she asked, smiling as she bit into a warm biscuit (and then moaned). Yes. If only.
To keep the good stuff going in the body, chef John DeLucie, who was most recently the chef at La Bottega and previously ran the kitchens at the Soho and Tribeca Grand Hotels, offers simple American fare, beautifully constructed from organic and local ingredients that are precisely seasoned so that flavors are articulate and sharp, not muddy or fuzzy.
We started out with a bowl of wood-grilled mussels ($18) in a lemony garlic and herb broth. I’d have these as a main course, and why not, dessert too, they are so lovely. The mussels are all plumped up, and pouring out of their shells. Pop a fat one in your mouth and they taste a bit briny, a bit sweet, and a bit smoky from the wood grill, a great subtle touch that feels right considering the blazing fire you are probably eating in front of.
A country salad ($12) is nothing new, but who needs new when it’s so perfect? You’ve got a bed of frisee tossed with nugget-sized Berkshire pork lardoons topped with a nicely poached organic egg. And there are such a generous number of smoky lardoons on that salad that you may be tempted to call it a lardon salad instead. A circular disc of bright pink tuna tartare ($14) comes over a bed of diced avocado, with a side of Dijon- and lemon-dressed frisee and a few crostini to be used as edible forks. My only complaint here would be that the fish was minced a little to fine, and I wouldn’t have minded a bit of heat in there, but truthfully, I am splitting hairs. It was quite good.
I know there’s been a lot said (and written) about the Waverly’s mac and cheese with shaved truffles because of its $55 price tag. Quite frankly, screw the cost, people. Between the four of you, it’s $13.75 each, and it’s so worth it. What you get is a big dinner plate overloaded with curly corkscrew pasta that has been bathed in a smooth, hot and creamy blend of cheese and béchamel that gets showered with fresh black truffles shaved over the top, tableside. I could honestly have eaten that mac without the truffles, but since that’s not an option, you just need to bite the bullet and go for it. You’ve spent more on less, believe me. This is one of those foods that makes you feel like you might get struck down for eating it, it’s so sinful. But eat up anyway. Just watch out for stray lightning on the way home.
Entrees are built for this bracing cold. Big meaty short ribs are braised so their flesh melts. Your perfect bite gets swiped through the puddle of accompanying celery root puree. A thick bone-in Berkshire pork chop ($26) is wildly juicy, and served with a whole-roasted New York State apple that’s been skewered with rosemary. What can I say? These are classic goods—pork, apple, rosemary—that are exquisitely cooked. What more do you want? Just more, I guess. To go with our short ribs, Dover sole, and pork chop, we ordered a side of roasted carrots ($7), which are in the same gold medal league as those haricot verts. They are long and lovely, and roasted in a hot oven so their natural sugars come out and caramelize them. Before they’re served, John gives them just a sprinkle of sea salt and that does the trick. They are simple and delicious.
Desserts ($8) follow an all American path that complements the dinner menu. An apple crisp—with a generous layer of buttery nuggets of crisp on top—is served in a little clay crock-pot topped with vanilla ice cream. John’s version of Bananas Foster is a riff on the classic dessert. Ripe bananas are cooked in sugar and butter so they are hot on the inside and wrapped in a crystal sheen of sugar on the outside, and then topped with vanilla ice cream. But the most elegant and compelling dessert was a disc of tangy cheesecake made from fresh Vermont chevre, on a graham cracker crust. I know I should have held back with that cheesecake, but I couldn’t help myself. Susie, who had eaten at Robuchon the night before, and I were in a fork battle for the last bite. As she claimed it, victorious, she said, “I love this place. I’d rather eat here than Robuchon any night of the week.”
Before leaving the Waverly, I took a quick trip to the ladies room (which was small and cramped). As I walked through the restaurant to the back, I must say that pretty much everyone looked up at me, including Tom Ford. I say this not because I am someone that people look at, but because I could tell what they were thinking: “Who let her in? She’s nobody, or is she? Wait, she looks like someone, doesn’t she?”
That’s the thing about The Waverly. Everyone thinks everyone else in there is somebody. And many of the people at the Waverly Inn are. It’s like a zoo for celebrities. But what would make me most happy is if people stopped looking around and craning necks to spy the latest A-listers. Just have a seat, and focus on what’s on the plate in front of you. It doesn’t hurt to dine across from DeNiro, but I must say that of all the celebrities in the room, the food was the brightest star.
Review By: Andrea Strong