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Little Revolution in West Village Dining

Here is a copy of my column on food that appears in the West Village Weekly.

The new Fedora, Jeffrey’s Grocery and Joseph Leonard are all new; the oldest, the latter, beginning in 2009, are all doing capacity business. They all are about quality food and drink, good service and have a gentle old fashion look that does not have much flash and in addition they appear as though they are already deeply rooted as West Village neighborhood haunts.

Gabriel Stulman came New York via the University of Wisconsin after graduating in 2003.  During school he worked as bartender, and upon arriving in New York he was taken with the restaurant and food business. He developed a plan and worked with Joey Campanaro, a chef and opened Little Owl and then Market Table, which quickly became two of New York Cities hardest reservations. They split up and Gabe has gone on to open 3 new, different and small restaurants in a short period of time, which has garnered a good bit of media attention including The New York Times alluding to the fact that three have become “Little Wisco” or a small taste of Wisconsin in the West Village based on.

I would be very keen to visit the Wisconsin that these restaurants represent. There is little attitude, an open and friendliness that do not happen that easily in the cool big city, good drink and a focus on very good food that is carefully prepared, though not inexpensive. They work to appeal to locals by having a no-reservation policy or, in the case of Fedora, a same-day only reservation policy.

Fedora has been reincarnated from the celebrated original, often spoken about in this paper. Very early on, as a speak easy, and at a later point, a gay hang out, the place has history and as the recent press goes, Gabe and his associates have been courted, teased and vetted to take over the helm. Brian Bartells, GM and a partner with Gabe on Fedora, a buddy from Wisconsin, has developed the bar both from a mixology point of view and particularly as a warm and friendly place. On a recent Thursday night, at a little after 7 pm, the place was loud, booming, with 2 or 3 deep at the bar.  Brian was warmly working the room yet was very sympathetic and engaging to older people’s concerns about the level of noise and offered to soften the music. I will say that if you are looking for quiet conversation, Fedora or for that matter all three of these places are not your best choices. Brian did spend a bit of time speaking of the philosophy of the revolution and he spoke of the love and camaraderie of staff along with the attention to all the details in a very humble way.

Mehdi Brunet-Benkritly is not from Wisconsin, he is from Montreal and worked there as a sous chef at Au Pied de Cochon that Gabe became friends with, and is the Chef of Fedora.  His style is robust, not afraid of offal or organ meat, not fussy and original. Sweetbreads, tripe, “pig’s head,” tongue are all covered on the menu. Do not worry; there is a big pork chop for two, recently profiled in Time Out Magazine and the trendy down home fried chicken. I may go back for those but I can speak about the Crispy Pig’s Head which is in fact meat from a pig’s head prepared as a croquette of sorts and served with greens and a tarragon gribiche sauce, a mayonnaise with hard boiled egg, it was rich, familiar, unusual and tasty. We also tried the Chioggia Beet Salad and the Grilled Calamari. Main courses included the Crisped Duck Leg, with BBQ sauce, Dates and Herb Salad, Sweetbreads and Octopus – as an entrée together, and Tile Fish with Harissa, the Tunesian spicy condiment, a special. They were all carefully prepared, the sweet breads, gently fried and the octopus, tender and gilled working well together. The harrisa, not to strong working with polenta chips and greens. I thought the best of the three was the duck, although the description in my mind was not true to the dish. The duck itself was crisp, tender and flavorful, the dressing underneath, included cauliflower, dates in mélange and a bit a BBQ sauce that gave the dish, many notes of sweet and savory without taking too much attention away from the duck.

We choose to drink some of the Sixpoints beer on tap from Red Hook Brooklyn.  The “Little Wisco Special” developed with and for Gabriel and Brian is inspired by “our memories of Wisconsin and the influence of friends and community,” according to Brian.   The pint was filled with flavor and great with or without food, although I prefer a beer like that with good food!

Desserts are brief and well thought out, highlights were “Cheesecake” Panna Cotta, a smooth and luscious cream pudding, accessorized with passion fruit and graham cracker crumbs, warm lime madeleine’s with sabayon and a made to order apple tart were runners up.

I visited Joseph Leonard, on a cold Tuesday evening in February and to my surprise the place was booming. A different menu, but equally thoughtful food described as “an American brasserie” which translates to some French leaning classics with service in a warm and not fussy way.

Jeffrey’s Grocery, almost across the street from Joseph Leonard, which recently closed for a few days to expand their kitchen, has a focus on more casual dining, small plates and a raw bar but the food also has a continental pedigree about it.

What is this little revolution, having not met the man, I hypothesize that Gabe gets on very well with people and has a very sincere appreciation for all aspects of running a restaurant especially the food and chef and lets others go for it, and everybody wins especially the customer.

Fedora   239 West 4th Street (near Charles St) 646 449-9336 www.FedoraNYC.com
Jeffrey’s Grocery 172 Waverly Place (at Christopher) 646 398-7630   www.JeffreysGrocery.com
Joseph Leonard – 170 Waverly Place 646 429-8383 646) 398-7630 www.JosephLenard.com