The Five Points Party Lives On At Vic’s In Noho: Review
When I lived in the East Village with two roommates and one small, empty refrigerator, I occasionally woke up in time to participate in the grand ritual of brunch. On those rare Sunday mornings, I joined the hoarse-voiced and queasy masses drawn toward Great Jones Street for the steadying effects of Bloody Marys and baked eggs at Five Points.
That great hall of fresh food opened back in 1999 with the sort of seasonal aesthetic that wasn’t yet so cliche as to be expected at any decent New York restaurant, and it chugged along pretty successfully for years. Last summer though, owners Victoria Freeman and Marc Meyer (also of Cookshop and Hundred Acres) decided to gut renovate their place, hire a new chef, and call the place Vic’s.
You can still go for brunch, and for old time’s sake, I did. It was just ok, with carelessly dressed salads and tedious egg variations. “Look, it’s my first time working the brunch shift,” a waiter told me with a long, heavy sigh, when I asked him a question about the fennel sausage. “So I have no idea.”
Dinner With Swagger
Dinner, on the other hand, was great: solid, unpretentious cooking with a little swagger and bright flavors, and plenty of helpful servers who weren’t just familiar with the food, but excited about it. And after eating dinner, I could see why. Satisfying, memorable vegetable dishes clutter the menu and even the cacio e pepe, a quiet construction of Italian pantry staples, manages to be big and loud and memorable—heavy on the everything, with the pasta unapologetically al dente, served hot enough to burn your mouth if you aren’t careful.
Hillary Sterling, the new chef, spent years working with Missy Robbins at A Voce and has some serious skills in the pasta department; there are several pastas extruded in the open kitchen at the back of the dining room. (I’m sorry, but extruded is the horrible, actual verb for doughs being pushed through the tubes of a pasta machine). The giant rigatoni made with rye, barely dressed with a sticky, deeply flavored braised lamb was a hit at my table, and when I thought about it later, when I was far away from New York, it made me a little homesick. The delicious “little purses” filled with ricotta, glazed with lemony butter and hazelnuts was comforting in a softer way (though the dough can be very thick at the folds of some of the stuffed pastas on the menu, including this one).
Top Tier Pizza
New York’s most recent pizza boom has involved all kinds of excellence coming from Nick Anderer at Marta, Matt Hyland at Emily, and Bobby Hellen at GG’s, to name a few. Sterling’s pizzas haven’t seen the same attention, but they can be remarkably good, with tender, puffy crusts painted with char and the finest layer of crackle. The pies are soft and drooping slightly in the center, so you must maneuver the first hot slice very carefully to keep all toppings intact. The best of the lot might be the horseradish-powered prosciutto and ricotta pizza with a fine layer of poppy seeds. The one loaded with burrata and a melt of anchovies is also irresistible, though it seems too cheesy until the magic moment when it’s cooled enough to hold itself together. That’s when you realize it’s perfectly proportioned; in fact, spectacular.
Sometimes Vic’s can go a bit overboard, though. The dish of clams and creamy cannellini beans in a little broth was delicious on one evening, singing with herbs and the sweet flavor of clam juice. On another night, it was intensely salty—the salt turned up so high it made your mouth tingle like a mild electric shock and everything else disappeared. The mustard seeds on the roast chicken with Brussels sprouts were such in huge quantities they blanketed the entirety of the bird’s beautiful, burnished skin. It was a fine dish, and the chicken expertly cooked, but it was crushed under the weight of sugar and tang if you didn’t scrape some of the extra seeds off.
The big new dining room is good-looking and loud too, packed with thirty and forty-something groups of friends, and a couple of girl scrums clinking citrusy spritzes and tearing away at garlic bread. The music and chatter bounces merrily off all the hard surfaces of wood and tile, which might just be part of the charm at Vic’s, but it’s not ideal when you’re nursing a hangover. The best time to go these days is definitely dinnertime.
Vic’s is at 31 Great Jones Street (Noho); +1 212 253-5700 or vicsnewyork.com
Rating: 2/4 Stars (Very Good)
What to Order: Prosciutto pizza ($17); Burrata pizza ($15); Rye rigatoni ($14); Crispy sweet onions ($12); Pork ribs with polenta ($14); Roasted squash ($8)
Need to Know: The wine menu is extremely straightforward with thoughtful notes that actually help you choose the right one, and includes 10 reds and 10 whites available by the glass, quartino, or bottle.