As I sat down to write this post, I realized I was about to start it off with the exact same words that captured my excitement after dining at L'Artusi this past winter. Another one of my favorite restaurateurs has done it again. It was just nine months ago that I thought opening a nearby sister restaurant was an extremely rare, yet lucky phenomenon. And now, with the opening of Joseph Leonard, Gabriel Stulman of the Little Owl and Market Table has taken this concept to a new level. He has achieved the restaurant trifecta - and to my delight (and his success), it has all gone down in the west village.
As if I wasn't already drawn to any relative of the Little Owl, the name of this new spot immediately won me over. Named after both of Stulman's grandfathers, Joseph Leonard would make any grandparent glow with pride - you just may not want to take them there as the tough acoustics were my only complaint during the night. By most standards, this is an extremely cozy, intimate restaurant. But, in the world of Stulman, this is actually a size medium. What really sets Joseph Leonard apart is its central bar that takes up a large amount of the restaurant's space. Don't let this main attraction fool you as the food will win your attention in the end.
The menu is made up of the ever-popular, seasonal new American food. But, to separate itself from its siblings, Joseph Leonard is a true testament to the times - providing a large selection of reasonably priced options. As you sort through soups, salads, shellfish, meats, charcuterie, poultry, vegetables, grains, and potatoes, you can grab from the jar of cornichons decorating each wooden table. While it is hard to go wrong, it really is hard to decide. As summer is coming to an end, I decided to take advantage of many of the seafood options while they are still available. The raw oysters and the sardines with toasted country bread, fennel, and celery were great starters. But, it was the salt cod brandade and the tomato tart that were the winners. The creamy brandade was served on a baguette with curry oil and a piquillo pepper marmalade - truly setting this dish apart. The tomato phyllo tart was stuffed with tomatoes, tomato jam, fennel compote and comte cheese. It was amazing how they made this combination seem so delicate as it was packed with ingredients and flavor.
While it is usually the appetizers that are my favorite part of the meal, the main courses managed to wow me even more. The Old Bay soft shell crab was served with sweet corn, red onion, avocado, frisee and heirloom tomatoes - the perfect summer seafood grand finale. As a side, we ordered their delicious summer stuffing made up of corn, leeks and tarragon as its expiration date is just around the corner. But, my very favorite dish of the night was the roasted lamb T-bones with pesto, cauliflower gratin, and crispy onions. I think we transitioned right into autumn over the course of our dinner. The meat was perfectly prepared and the accompaniments brought out its unique flavors. I'm really hoping this dish ends up being cross-seasonal. And, while I'm making requests for the next season's menu, I'd like to ask that they keep around the caramel pudding with cookie crumbs and whipped cream as well as the carrot cake. We only had room for the delicious pudding, but I have a serious weakness for carrot cake and I have no doubt that they have already mastered it here.
On second thought, I probably would take my grandmother to this new spot knowing her devout sweet tooth. Even if we couldn't hear each other, I know she would appreciate its quaint setting and excellent cuisine. Joseph Leonard represents family pride and appreciation. So, in New York City, and especially in the west village, I have quickly realized that I'm no longer surprised when I learn of another opening of related restaurants. In the end, it actually makes total sense to me. If I had it my way, I'd live right around the corner from my sister too.
170 Waverly Place (@ Grove St.)
New York, NY 10014
FOOD RATING (Out of 5):