Note: Click here for a more recent visit to The Little Owl.
The food press and the blogosphere have been raving about The Little Owl since it opened in the the West Village in late May. We gave it a try last night, and while we had a thoroughly enjoyable casual meal, we were a tad less enraptured than others who’ve written about it.
I started with an Ahi Tuna appetizer ($10). A seared two-inch square of tuna was served atop a mixed green salad. One cannot complain about the price, but I found the tuna a bit too dry. The dish was missing something. My friend found French Onion Soup ($9) competently prepared.
We both ordered The Pork Chop ($20) that everyone has cheered about. It must be an inch and a half thick before cooking and is served with permesan butter beans and wild dandelion. We were impressed with the powerful seasoning (“cayenne, curry, coriander and cumin” in Frank Bruni’s description), the tenderness, and the impressive swagger of that massive pork chop—probably a custom cut for The Little Owl, as I don’t recall seeing anything like it elsewhere.
News of The Pork Chop (capitalized thus on the menu) has spread far and wide, and I saw plenty of them coming out of the kitchen during our visit. Gravy meatball sliders ($9) are a popular appetizer, but as I knew a heavy pork chop was coming, I didn’t have the appetite to try them.
There are many things to love about The Little Owl. The servers do a terrific job of navigating the small space. Most entrées are under $25, most appetizers under $14. The wine list has plenty of fine bottles under $50 (always my litmus test at this kind of restaurant), as well as a good selection of half-bottles. Despite the constant rush for tables, there were no sign of hints for us to leave, even though it was clear we were done ordering and just wanted to linger over the wine. The check was delivered only after we asked for it.
But the space is awfully cramped. The restaurant allegedly accommodates 28 diners at tables and 5 at the bar, but we saw only 2 at the bar (sitting rather cosily), and couldn’t conceive of where 3 more could go. Our table was more like a cocktail table, and we needed every square inch of it. The bread service was a dull French bread probably made the night before and a dish of olive oil. The décor is fairly plain. Though no reservations were available, a few tables are always available for walk-ins. The receptionist advised that we would probably be seated right away if we arrived at 6:00 p.m.—and we were. Had we arrived a short while later, we probably would not have been.
Frank Bruni awarded two stars to The Little Owl. I suppose one cannot come down too hard on Bruni, as Adam Platt did the same in New York (albeit on a five-star scale). But it still seems to me, as I noted in my Dressler review, that ratings entirely lose their meaning if the same two stars are awarded to The Little Owl and Café Gray. Although I award one star to both Dressler and The Little Owl, we actually liked Dressler a little better.
The Little Owl (90 Bedford Street at Grove Street, West Village)