The Little Owl 90 Bedford St, 212-741-4695 Price Range: N/A
Scrounging the West Village for an early-summer hotspot, I discovered somewhere brand-spanking new that was intimate and modern. It was also the most amusingly infuriating time I’ve ever had going out in the city.
The Little Owl is in a tiny glass-walled room on a tree-lined Village street, away from the bustle of Seventh, but bustling inside. The open kitchen, sheathed in glass, promised entertainment along with culinary artistry. It provided both in spades, but more on that later. First I had to wait for a table, as they do not take reservations. It was 7:30 when I got there. We were seated at 9:40. I spent this time carousing down Bedford Street at the beerhaus Lederhosen, which I heartily recommend for a few good liters of bock and friendly, though not lederhosen-bedecked, bartenders.
Half drunk when the call came, we stumbled back to the Little Owl, hardly remembering why we chose it in the first place. One look at the menu reminded me. Sliders jumped out from the appetizers. These beef, veal, and pork morsels, clothed in toasted brioche, tasted not unlike the White Castle originals. They didn’t contain foie gras, nor were they topped with a cranberry-olive emulsion. They were just simple finger food, artfully presented, and appetizingly slicked with grease. Even better, the restaurant was serving their house wine gratis, avoiding disappointment at their lack of a liquor license and (almost) making me forget the unforgivable wait. My partner had seared scallops with lobster and herb risotto. Actually, “scallop” would be more accurate. But it too was lovely; medium rare, perched on a heaping stack of verdant rice, perfumed with thyme, chervil, and probably some other esoteric herbs my beer-numbed palate couldn’t grasp.
Then the entertainment began. I won’t promise this will happen every night, but it did happen 100 percent of my — one — visits. As we were finishing our snacks, preparing for steak and halibut, the sprinklers went off in the kitchen. The torrential indoor rain splashed through the glass divider onto my back, and made the low lights dance. It was magical. It also signaled an abrupt end to their business for the evening, and nullified our bill. How would our entrees have been? From our appetizers, and looking at other plates, I assume artful, impeccably fresh, and undersized.
I can’t promise a rainstorm or a free meal, but the Mediterranean-inflected New American cuisine should be enough. That is, as long as you spend the arduous wait wisely: Chumley’s is next door, Lederhosen is down the block.