A few Fridays ago, , I had dinner with two of my oldest friends. Lisa, Keith and I met in college doing what is probably the nerdiest thing I do: musical theatre. Oh yes, my friends. Singing, dancing, jazz hands.
Lisa lives in Englewood, just over the George Washington Bridge, so I see her fairly often. But Keith's been living in Philadelphia for a few years and is spending just a few weeks here in New York. Therefore, dinner was in order. We decided to meet up in the West Village at the new-ish Joseph Leonard, described by its owner as a "bar with food" and named for his two grandfathers.
The bar, a right angle set in the middle of the small room, is indeed the heart of the enterprise, where the two mixologists are a constant whirl or shaking and stirring. All that activity turns out some delicious drinks, including one of the best Manhattans I've ever had. Lisa's Saint-Germain and gin concoction was pretty good, too, though I'd have served it up instead of on the rocks. We had a good amount of time to savor our drinks; Joseph Leonard doesn't take reservations, so we spent our 20 minutes of waiting time sipping peacefully in a corner of the dining room.
We sat down at a table set with red checkered napkins, sturdy silverware and a mason jar full of cornichons. Keith, a lover of pickles, was very pleased at this last development. The menu skews toward haute barnyard, with lots of farmer's market veggies (carrots, brussels sprouts and turnips all made the list) on display. We ended up ordering a wide variety of dishes; I went for the friseé aux lardons salad, a steak tartare special and a side of brussels sprouts.
The frisée salad arrived topped with fresh tarragon - something I'd never seen before - and accompanied by a soft-fried egg perched atop a lightly toasted crouton. The egg was creamy and slipped softly down my throat. The salad itself was lovely, dressed in a red wine vinaigrette and taking a pleasantly herbal note from the tarragon. While it wasn't the best frisée aux lardons I've ever had, it was darn satisfying.
Lisa ordered the glazed carrots, which came out of the oven looking like something from a Thomas Keller cookbook - with good reason, it seems. The chef (James McDuffy) used to work for Keller at Bouchon Bakery. Perfectly turned and tossed with butter and chives, the carrots (and turnips) were sweet, tender and delicious.
My steak tartare - a special that really should go on the permanent menu - didn't photograph well, but it was absolutely delicious. The meat was finely chopped, mixed with a healthy amount of shallots, capers and mustard and topped with a poached egg. Though the disc of tartare was surrounded by more than enough toasts to go around, I ended up eating each of my bites with the prototypically American onion rings (thick and beer-battered specimens) that sat alongside.
Best of all, though, were the brussels sprouts. The leaves were separated from the cores, roasted till they were black around the edges, and tossed with copious amounts of butter. Topped off with a squeeze of Sriracha and a healthy pinch of salt, they were like green leaves of crack. None of the three of us could get enough.
(It's also worth noting that the service at Joseph Leonard was fantastic - attentive and friendly, enthusiastic (I love when I can tell that the staff adore the food at a restaurant.), and just plain sweet. The staff did a fair job of corralling an increasingly obnoxious crowd, and were happy to help me extract our coats from underneath an outerwear mountain.)
Finally, dessert. Keith and Lisa were partial to the chocolate pot de creme with cherries, I fell for the caramel pudding topped with whipped cream and cookie crumbs. Yes, cookie crumbs. Oh. My. Gah. This was just too delicious. The pudding was creamy and rich and had a mellow kind of sweetness that I found really satisfying. The cookie crumbs took the whole thing over the top into full-on retro nostalgia land, a place I'm enjoying these days.
170 Waverly Place (At Christopher Street)