Andrew Carmellini is one of those chefs who can do anything, and get coverage. No doubt the Public Theater realized that, when they invited him to open a new restaurant in their newly-renovated building, the former Astor Library.
The theater gave him a gorgeous, cloistered space, dimly lit with dark paneling and comfortable seating. Once you’re inside, it doesn’t look at all like a restaurant attached to a performing arts center. It’s open most days till midnight, Thursdays to Saturdays till 2:00am — hours clearly intended to attract more than just a pre-theater audience.
What’s missing is a reason to go. The food is competent, of course, as you’d expect at any Carmellini place. But it feels phoned in, as if Carmellini spent fifteen minutes on it before turning his attention to the next project.
The menu is divided in three “Acts,” with various snacks ($6–13), appetizers ($12–15) and entrées ($17–27). Perhaps they were worried about pushing the metaphor: desserts are labeled, simply, “desserts” ($7–9). All of it is fairly obvious stuff.
It’s great that they serve three kinds of bread with soft butter (above left); not so great that it comes cold and stale. Carmellini has a way with crostini, but the ones served here ($12; above right) were bland cousins of the better examples I’ve had at Locanda Verde.
The Cruditées ($13; above) were great. We loved the wasabi dip so much that we were tempted to ask for the recipe, so that we could serve it ourselves.
The burger ($18; above left) with caramelized onions, cheddar, and bacon, was terrific. It won’t quite make me forget the Spotted Pig or Minetta, but if you fancy a high-end burger it’s worth the tarrif. I had a taste of the Pulled Pork Roll ($17; above right), which was good enough, but I liked it a tad less.
The cocktails are great: try the Dandy Riot (Rye, Aperol, Angostura, Talisker 10). They’re probably not enough to make this place a destination, but should you be in the mood to drop in, you’ll be well taken care of. The wine list, like the food, is not an attraction, but the service makes up for it. When my fiancée was unsure which of two wines she’d prefer, the server brought over both and poured a taste of each. Full credit for that, when so many restaurants these days don’t bring over the bottle at all.
On a Friday evening, The Library was doing a respectable business before a show, but was not full. There were a lot of staff on the floor, so I assume they were expecting a late-night crowd. As a pre-theater restaurant, The Library is as good as it has to be. With such a beautiful space and a top-shelf name behind it, you’d think they could have done more.
The Library at the Public (425 Lafayette Street at Astor Place, Greenwich Village)
Food: Generic American cuisine, competently done
Service: Good; a high ratio of servers to diners
Ambiance: A warm, dark, country-clubbish dining room, upstairs at the Public