Entries in Gabriel Stulman (4)



Gabriel Stulman hadn’t planned to open another restaurant so soon. After launching Joseph Leonard in late 2009 and Jeffrey’s Grocery in late 2010, he was in no rush to expand his empire. But when 90-year-old Fedora Donato decided to retire from the West Village space she’d occupied since 1952, Stulman felt he had to take it.

The new Fedora has very little in common with the old, but it was a shrewd move to keep the iconic name, as Keith McNally did at nearby Minetta Tavern. I’m not sure how much of the décor he kept, aside from the neon sign outdoors, but the renovation took more than half a year.

The deep, narrow space, as now re-decorated, features a long, pretty bar (which serves a full menu) on one side and and an odd assortment of tables—some wood, others marble; some square, others round—on the other.

Much like David Chang, Stulman has become a savant for the no-reservations movement, giving a variety of (usually self-serving) reasons why they aren’t taken at Joseph Leonard or Jeffrey’s. He’s changed his tune at Fedora, or perhaps is changing it daily. Less than a month ago, Adam Platt wrote in New York that reservations are taken only for parties of four or more. Currently, they’re taken for parties of two or more, but only on the same day.

I am actually surprised that he relented. I was seated without a reservation at 6:15 p.m. on a Friday evening, but the place was full shortly thereafter, and the hostess turned away a steady stream of walk-ins. There is very little waiting space when the bar is full, and perhaps he now takes reservations to avoid alienating his neighbors, who might be annoyed by a long queue on the formerly quiet street. Make no mistake: queue, they would. Fedora is as big a hit as all of Stulman’s other places.

The kitchen, no longer Italian, is run by Mehdi Brunet-Benkritly, an alumnus of the famed Montreal restaurant Au Pied de Cochon. (Another PdC vet runs the hit Long Island City diner, M. Wells.) The menu isn’t a knock-off of his old haunt at all: there isn’t a single foie gras dish, whereas Au Pied do Cochon serves it by the bucket. Appetizers are $9–14, entrés $20–28 (not counting the obligatory côte de boeuf for two, $85), side dishes $8.

I adored the Cured Spanish Mackerel ($12; above left), served on a bed of puréed avocado with crushed chips for textural contrast. But a fine Crisped Duck Leg (above right) was ruined in a heavy slurry of barbecue sauce, a misconceived dish if ever there was one, and at $22 it is not exactly a bargain for such a small portion. The conceit of serving every dish in a bowl, whether it’s suitable or not, is not exactly endearing.

The staff is friendly and well trained. It is surely not their fault that the bread service consisted of two meager slices smaller than the palm of my hand, with soft butter that you’re expected to spread with the same knife given out for the appetizer. The two-page wine list is international, and fairly priced by my reckoning (see Decanted for more). The server offered a taste before pouring a glass of a Chateau Smith, a courtesy many expensive restaurants shamefully omit.

For all its limitations, I was prepared to love Fedora. I had a terrific dish and a dud, and at this point I can’t say which one was the aberration.

Fedora (239 W. 4th Street near W. 10th Street, West Village)

Food: *
Service: *
Ambiance: *
Overall: *


Update: The Little Owl

Something you’ll never see: The Little Owl with no customers. [Kalina via Eater]

Much of The Little Owl’s reputation seems to rest on two knockout dishes: The Pork Chop, which I had the last time I visited; and the meatball sliders.

I was in the mood for a snack the other day, so I dropped in for an order of those balleyhooed sliders. All of the bar seats were available at 6:15 p.m., but within fifteen minutes they were all taken.

[Amateur Gourmet]
In a town awash with sliders, I thought these were par for the course. These are made with beef, pork and veal, and slathered with gravy. The server asked what I thought, and I said, “They’re fun.”

“They’re perfect!” she replied, almost looking offended, as if merely “fun” wasn’t good enough. At $10, they certainly make a fine snack.

The space remains unbelievably popular, and unbelievably cramped. They must have added a couple of tables since Kalina’s photo (above) was shot: it almost looks roomy, which The Little Owl, with its 28 seats, is not. They now manage to fit five at the bar, and believe me, it’s a squeeze.

I continue to believe, as I did before, that The Little Owl is slightly overrated, but it’s a wonderful neighborhood restaurant. I wish I had something as good where I live.

The Little Owl (90 Bedford Street at Grove Street, West Village)

Food: *
Service: *
Ambiance: Cramped
Overall: *


Market Table

Update: Since this review was written, Market Table has dropped the “Market” part of the concept. The front room is no longer a market, and the restaurant now has 60 seats, 20 more than before.

In November 2008, Frank Bruni awarded two stars in the Times. We believe—as we did at the Little Owl—that this was one star more than it deserved, bearing in mind that one star is supposed to be a compliment. Thanks to the Bruni review, it’s probably no longer true that “Market Table is a Little Owl you can get into.”


markettable_logo.jpgTwo years ago, Joey Campanaro and Gabriel Stulman electrified the West Village with their hugely successful Little Owl, which won a remarkable two stars from Frank Bruni in the Times. Five months ago, they returned with a sequel, Market Table, just five blocks south. Early on, the demand for tables was intense: Bloomberg’s Ryan Sutton waited 90 minutes to get in.

Critical reception hasn’t reached the levels of rapture accorded The Little Owl. Market Table made Adam Platt’s Best of ’07 List, but Platt doesn’t seem to have reviewed it. In the Village Voice, Sietsema was unimpressed. For the Sun, Paul Adams mostly liked it. Randall Lane awarded four of six in TONY, and Restaurant Girl awarded 2½ out of 4 in the Daily News. But Frank Bruni surprisingly gave it a pass, letting Julia Moskin deliver a mixed verdict in Dining Briefs.

At Market Table, the central conceit is that it’s a market with tables. The front room sells coffee, sandwiches, and some of the same food ingredients used in the restaurant. The serving area is in the back room. It’s roomier and comfier than The Little Owl. Still, the shared DNA is apparent: exposed brick, bare table-tops, and a bar that’s set up for walk-in diners. Their menus and wine lists are similar, too.

Market Table is a Little Owl you can get into. At 6:15 p.m. on a Saturday evening, The Little Owl couldn’t accommodate our party of three. Five minutes later, we walked into Market Table and were seated at the bar immediately.

The menu is laden with comfort-food favorites. It had certainly captured our server’s affections. We asked him for recommendations, and by the time he was finished he had gushed over practically every dish. Mikey Price, formerly of The Mermaid Inn, is in charge of the kitchen,. He was off on the evening we were there, but Campanaro (who humbly called himself the “chef’s assistant”) was on hand.

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Beet and goat cheese salad (left); Fried calamari (right)

A salad with heirloom beets and breaded balls of fried goat cheese ($11) was lovely. Humble fried calamari ($9) were crisp and not at all greasy.

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Crab cake (left); Lamb shank (right)

A crab cake ($21) was impressive, with only the slightest cloak of breading and tender chunks of crab. But a braised lamb shank ($20) was dull and tough. Silky potatoes au gratin with gouda cheese offered some redemption.

markettable03.jpgAt a restaurant where most entrées are below $25, it’s nice to see that they don’t try to make it up on wine. A Finger Lakes Cabernet Franc was $44, and these days I feel the need to cheer when there is anything decent for under $50.

There is also a selection of half-bottles—another estimable trait shared with The Little Owl.

Is Market Table as good as The Little Owl? It’s not lacking for business, but the foodocracy still seems to prefer the older sibling. The space at Market Table is considerably more pleasant, but the menu doesn’t seem to have that “killer dish”—at The Little Owl, it’s the famous pork chop—as a draw.

But I’ll probably come back to Market Table, because it’s fun, friendly, and inexpensive. And readers, please note that the rating below—one star (the same as I gave The Little Owl)—is not an insult. One star means “good”.

Market Table (54 Carmine Street near Bedford Street, West Village)

Food: *
Service: *½
Ambiance: *
Overall: *


The Little Owl

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)

Food: *
Service: *
Ambiance: Satisfactory
Overall: *