Considering the excessive hype around Keith McNally’s Minetta Tavern since opening, I’ve been shamelessly trying to make a trip to make a judgetment myself. I had heard particularly rave reviews about the burger and the steak, and though I’m not a huge meat eater myself, the detailed descriptions by die-hard Minetta-meat fans were close to convincing me to convert. The only thing stopping me? Intimidation due to the fact that scoring a table here is apparently close to impossible, no matter what time or day of the week.
Then God decided to reward me for my patience. Hankering for a quintessentially New York dinner spot last night, I proposed a dinner at Minetta Tavern to my friend Adam who was in town from London. He came up with the genius idea of asking his hotel concierge to book us a table, and within minutes came back with confirmation of 7:30pm. When I received this news via email, I almost jumped out of my desk chair in ecstatic surprise. Was there a cancellation? Was it a joke? Whatever the reason, I couldn’t wait to have a chance to experience the wonder described in every review!
Minetta Tavern sits between a line of shady bars and ethnic restaurants on MacDougal street, and with its unremarkable exterior and neon lit sign, it blends in quite well. The corridor past the entrance, however, leads you decades in the past to a time of heavy cocktail drinking, dark red leather booths, wooden trims, and mysterious engagements. The only thing missing is a cloud of smoke and a smug Don Draper.
The restaurant, while packed, was surprisingly quite tame. Our party of four was seated upon arrival with immediate drink and bread service, and the noise level was definitely manageable. The menu is simple and to the point, with straight forward French-American fare so charactistic of all McNally restaurants. Fortunately, there were quite a few specials that struck our fancy, two of which we ordered as appetizers for the table: the jumbo lump crab cake and the fresh mozzerella that the chef had apparently been creating all day.
The crab cake was perfect – delicate on the inside with large lumps of crab meat, and just lightly sauteed to give it a crisp service. The warm corn and cherry tomato salad really brought out the subtle sweetness of the crab, and as a whole, the dish was perfectly well rounded. The mozzerella was equally delicious – firm, wholesome, and savory coupled with sweet red peppers and dandelion greens.
Entree decisions were not easy. Of course, I had been dying to try the burger and the steak, but I knew I’d be disappointed with a full plate of meat. So yes, I ordered fish at a restaurant known for its burger and strip, but I only made the decision knowing that I would at least be able to try the dishes, since they were ordered by my friends. That said, the grilled dorade with braised artichokes was incredible. The skin was perfectly crispy, and the fish delicate and flakey. The artichokes were meaty and stood up well to the light filet. If I return, I may have to succomb to ordering this again.
The other dishes were of course incredible too – the tavern steak came out in a shape I had never seen, but was tender, SO flavorful, and perfectly cooked. The sweet cream butter added an extra richness to the meat, and the fries, which are Keith McNally’s specialty, were unsurprisingly hot, crisp, and delicious.
I had one bite of the Black Label burger, and that was enough. I could see how it would be a dream for burger fans – the meat is incredbily soft, tastes aged, and almost buttery. But it’s incredibly rich – I wouldn’t be surprised if butter was a key ingredient in the ground meat – and is definitely not for the half ass meat fans like myself.
For dessert, we were close to ordering the souflle, but requiring 20 minutes to prepare, we decided to past and opt for the “Chocolate Dacquoise,” which was shaped like a cake but reminiscent of a hazelnut meringue tiramisu. It was definitely sweet, decadent, and delicious, and paired well with our extra side of dulce de leche ice cream (not featured on the menu).
All in all, the meal was memorable, and I suspect the reasons why there’s a month long wait to get a table. The restaurant is sexy. It’s efficient. It’s old school. It evokes nostalgia. The menu is a crowd pleaser. The cocktails are stellar. But above all, Minetta Tavern isn’t just any restaurant in an even playing field – it’s a Keith McNally – a work of art and almost guaranteed success in the competitive world of New York city restaurants.
Regardless of the causes of reservation competition, I’ll be back the next chance I get.
Address: 113 Macdougal street between West 3rd and Bleecker