Note: Calliope closed in April 2014. A restaurant called Contrada, has replaced it. The review below was written under founding chefs Eric Korsh and Ginevra Iverson, who left the restaurant in January 2014 in a dispute with owner Eric Anderson. Once that happened, the restaurant had lost its reason to exist. Korsh is now the chef at North End Grill.
Calliope is a cute restaurant with a terrific head start. It’s on a lively East Village street corner, and some smart, knowledgeable people are behind it. The chefs, husband & wife Eric Korsh and Ginevra Iverson, come from the Waverly Inn and Prune respectively. Their partner, Eric Anderson, comes from Prune as well.
The space was formerly Belcourt, and I can’t think of any good reason why it failed—except that the chef, Matthew Hamilton, went on to greener pastures. The space hasn’t changed much, and didn’t need to: it was already the perfect bistro spot.
The cuisine is vaguely in the French style, but except for a few (Provençal tomato tart, Tête du Porc) it’s all in English, and much of it could be on any menu in town. In the restaurant’s early days (it’s just three weeks old), the chefs clearly don’t aspire to challenge the audience. It’s bistro cuisine done well.
The prices are right, with snacks and appetizers $6–14, entrées mostly in the $20s. Only the ubiquitous dry-aged strip steak, at $32, is above that range. The wine list is also fairly priced, with plenty of bottles below $50: we ordered a 2008 Barbera d’Asti for $47.
They were out of that Provençal tart, but the server recommended a fine warm octopus salad (above left) at the same price ($10; normally $14). There was not quite enough of the promised white anchovy, but fingerling potatoes and celery more than kept up the bargain.
There was a bit of France in beef tongue ($9; above right) with sauce gribiche, sweet white onions, and lettuce mache.
Whole grilled turbot ($27; above right) is a large portion that two can easily share, as we did. Deboning it was a bit of work, but well worth it, especially for the rustic, smoky skin. There is no cheese course as yet on the printed menu, but the kitchen did a damned fine job of improvising one at our request ($10; above right).
We sat outdoors on practically the perfect evening. The restaurant was a shade over half full at 9:00 p.m. on a Saturday evening: we walked in and were seated immediately. Service, in the familiar casual East Village style, was pleasant and correct.
The current menu is a bit timid, but in the restaurant’s infancy you can hardly blame them: better to build an audience with solid food, well prepared, at a good price. That’s exactly what this is. I would certainly go again.
Calliope (84 E. 4th Street at Second Avenue, East Village)
Food: Solid French-inspired (but not too French) bistro cuisine
Service: Casual, friendly and correct; typical of the neighborhood
Ambiance: The perfect bistro; not much changed from the Belcourt days
Why? Not really adventurous, but a very good deal from two very good chefs