March 16 (Bloomberg) -- Ever wake up and say, “Gosh, I sure would like a hamburger a month from now?”
Probably not. Gabriel Stulman understands that casual cravings come without warning. That’s why Fedora, his chic reincarnation of a decrepit grotto haunt in the West Village, has a same-day reservation policy.
This is important in a town where food junkies fill the books at Minetta Tavern and ABC Kitchen a month ahead of time.
Stulman is familiar with such absurdities, having cut his teeth running The Little Owl, where diners would battle busy signals weeks in advance for a plate of meatball sliders.
Then came Joseph Leonard, an uneven diner on Waverly Place where the policy is walk-ins only. Everyone shows up at prime time, when the wait can stretch to two hours.
Fedora manages the crowds with a bit more panache. The phone lines open up at 11:00 a.m. No OpenTable online bookings. This is when you show off your speed dialing skills.
Once you find it (GPS helps), descend a few steps below street level into Fedora.
Let’s call it intimate. Tables meant for two seat three. The communal coat check is self-serve. There’s a tiny restroom right by the front door.
Cocktails recall the Village of old, in the best sense. The burn of cinnamon and chai adds a late-winter perfume to the burn of gin; sparkling wine gets the floral treatment with elderflower, violet and lavender for an early-spring improvement on the kir royale. A Manhattan laced with “barbecue syrup” (cumin, cloves and paprika) tastes nothing like barbecue but it’s excellent. Can’t fight through the crowds? The host takes your drink order herself -- how retro!
Leave it to Stulman to pack a place with skinny pretties and offer them fatty off-cuts of everything.
Chef Mehdi Brunet-Benkritly, an alum of Au Pied de Cochon, Montreal’s famous foie gras and pig’s feet fetisheria, serves strong Franco-American fare whose flavors holler louder than the crowd.
Silky avocado contrasts with gossamer slices of cured mackerel. Beef tartare, typically strewn with capers and anchovies, gets a dose of tobiko, the crunchy Pop Rocks of the caviar world.
Meats come head to tail. Round little nuggets of pig’s head, under the adult supervision of vinegar, dissolve on the tongue.
Buttered-toast with an egg and cheddar would be enough gooey richness for most. Not for this chef; he adds musty stewed tripe to the mix. Sublime hangover food.
Surf and turf is octopus tentacles with veal sweetbreads, the textures unexpectedly similar. Fried chicken, with salty, crispy skin, seems safe. Then you notice the bonus: a fried rooster foot clenching a pickled cucumber.
There is G-rated fare. Take the cauliflower soup, which could turn screaming children into fans of the vegetable. The cauliflower comes as a citrusy cream so thick it’s surely a custard that forgot to cook itself through. Egg yolk imparts richness; slab bacon lends smoke. A few crunchy croutons keeps it all from going too soft.
Striped bass, flaky and moist with an herb vinaigrette, is topped with a few polenta fries looking like fish sticks.
The $85 cote de boeuf for two is boring on the palate -- until a hint of ponzu sauce and soy butter give the meat an unexpectedly bright depth of flavor. Very clever.
What further justifies the price are the Sino-American sides: A mound of pork fried rice sops up the beef jus; a pile of Brussels sprouts shows off a little black bean sauce -- a sexy way to fight gout.
The $20 hanger steak hero wants more hot sauce and horseradish to soften the crusty bread. A dry sandwich is a dead sandwich.
Pork chop for two? Overcooked with mealy meatballs. No matter. Hits outweigh the misses. Dunk your hot madeleines into chilly sabayon and prepare to work the speed dial again tomorrow. You’ll be back. Rating: **
The Bloomberg Questions
Cost: Most dishes $25 or under.
Sound Level: 80-85 decibels when full; somewhat compact seating means no shouting is necessary.
Date Place: Small tables = footsie.
Inside Tip: Sunday reservations are taken all week.
Special Feature: Outstanding apple tart.
Will I be back? Yes.
Fedora is at 239 W. Fourth St. near W. 10th St. Information: +1-646-449-9336; http://fedoranyc.com
What the Stars Mean: **** Incomparable food, service, ambience. *** First-class of its kind. ** Good, reliable. * Fair. (No stars) Poor.
Sound-Level Chart (in decibels):
51 to 55: Church on a weekday. 56 to 60: The vegetable aisle at the Food Emporium. 61 to 65: Keyboards clacking at the office. 66 to 70: My alarm clock when it goes off inches from my ear. 71 to 75: Corner deli at lunchtime. 76 to 80: Back of a taxi with advertisements at full volume. 81 to 85: Loud, crowded subway with announcements.
(Ryan Sutton writes about New York City restaurants for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at firstname.lastname@example.org.