This post originally appeared in Bill Addison’s newsletter “Notes From a Roving Critic,” a twice-monthly dispatch from Bill’s travels across the country. Subscribe now.
A friend from Atlanta was in Manhattan recently, and we’d made plans to have lunch on a Tuesday. Her request for a restaurant was familiar: She hoped for a place that felt very New York. Of course, that means something entirely different for every person who steps foot in the city, but this is someone I’ve known almost 20 years; I get her tastes. So I suggested the restaurant to which I’d wanted to return myself: Via Carota in the West Village.
Chef couple Rita Sodi and Jody Williams opened Via Carota in November 2014. This is their joint project, though their combined downtown dominion includes several other restaurants. Sodi has run I Sodi (a sliver of a restaurant dedicated to simple, transcendent Tuscan cooking) since 2008, Williams started all-day Gallic charmer Buvette in 2011, and the pair are working on the forthcoming cafe Pisellino. They’re masters at creating restaurants that immediately feel like neighborhood institutions.
I first dined at Via Carota in mid-December with Eater’s editor-in-chief Amanda Kludt (to whose newsletter you should also subscribe!), when my major projects of the year were finished and the holidays were about to engulf us all. During the meal, I kind of freaked out. We had a couple of bitter-leaning, tautly vinegary salads (just the wake-up call you want for winter greens), the lightest tagliatelle enriched with prosciutto and parmesan, and for dessert a sliver from a beautifully latticed crostata filled with raspberry jam. The food was damn near perfect. Hello, why had I never been here before?
“I’m sure someone on the Eater NY team mentioned this place to you at some point,” Amanda said.
“They should have demanded I come here,” I replied.
I spend my days thinking about restaurants that are essential — the havens that become indispensable to their communities, that galvanize trends, set standards for hospitality, or illuminate a cuisine in ways that feel fresh and magnetic. The places, in other words, that become an indelible part of our culture.
Via Carota feels essential to me. I like the rhythm of the crowd, a clear mix of locals and visitors. I love the craggy brick walls, and the list of negroni variations, and the soft light that seeps through the picture windows, and how a crostata sits displayed on a small table in the center of the dining room, tempting you until you can’t resist ordering a slice.
Lunch with my friend from Atlanta was equally special. The cooking administered a kind of no-nonsense balm. My trigger-happy emotions quieted down to a truce, while my analytical brain relished the food’s impeccable sense of composition. A snarl of fried sardines and onions was a still life of flailing tails and kinetic rings. The chicken livers — my god. They crowned a thick slice of toast along with onions and garlic cloves and a frizzled sliced of ham; softly scrambled eggs sidled up. If you harbor any positive feelings for chicken livers, you will abandon conversation and disappear into this dish.
Two bracing salads — grilled radicchio with caprino (a soft Italian goat cheese), pine nuts, and currants; and discs of citrus with halved olives, basil, and oregano — segued to the tagliatelle, which was just as lyrical this time around. At some point I’m going to move on to the pappardelle with wild boar ragu or the tortelli with smoked ricotta.
When I gushed about the lunch later, some colleagues countered that I Sodi might be the better restaurant. We shall see. It’s a safe bet that one of them is landing on this year’s list of the nation’s essential restaurants.
Via Carota: 51 Grove St., New York, New York, (212) 255-1962.