62 West 9th Street, near 6th Avenue, West Village, (212) 353-8400
Getting There: A,B,C,D,E,F,V to W. 4th Street- Washington Square
Restaurant Review: The Lion
Since the restaurant’s heralded opening, reservations at west village haunt The Lion have been some of the most sought after in all of Manhattan. Understandably so, considering the caliber of celebrity that frequents the dark speakeasy nouveau with regularity. On this evening, the A-listers were in short order (although Liam Neeson had been spotted there the night before) but that didn’t prevent New York City scenesters from filling the “tavern” space, dolled up in designer dresses, escorted by dates in tailored suits, adorning thin ties. A glimpse of The Lion is a glimpse of Manhattan’s elite, or at least what you’d expect Manhattan’s elite to resemble on a seemingly regular work night.
There are times when you may have passed by The Lion without even noticing it, with founder John DeLucie (Waverly Inn) opting for the nondescript “No. 62” to grace the plain black awning in favor of signage displaying the restaurant’s name. But even passersby take pause and stare at the noticeable activity inside. It’s a scene really. Well dressed mixologists scurrying behind the bar hustling to hand out specialty cocktails, the host stand constantly inundated with questions in regard to wait times, and us, the patrons anxious for a glimpse of the dining room, patiently waiting the opportunity to dine alongside the select.
The dining room itself is dark and traditional, outfitted with ancient portraits and chandeliers that make the old feel cool again. The wine list is undersized but expensive, forcing our hand toward the already tasty ($14, also expensive, but expectedly so) cocktails. Admittedly though part of the charm of indulging in the full experience of The Lion lies in sipping on a mixed drink and perusing your immediate vicinity in such an animated surrounding.
With such a lively setting, it certainly seems like any food served at all would be a plus, although the atmosphere gives off the impression that the meal might be more style than substance. But crowds- especially in New York- know their food, and the difficulty in simply securing a table would indicate that there’s more to The Lion than a populated bar area and some liquor filled drinks. In that regard, it should be noted that the menu is pricey and whether or not the dishes are worth their asking price is debatable, but despite critical praise and panning, the food here ranges from very good to excellent.
After a lengthy wait for our reservation, which the restaurant acknowledged by providing a round of drinks, the “yellowfin tuna tartare” ($19) was a warm welcome to our table. Served with a collaboration of watermelon radish, hearts of palm, and baby fennel, the lemon aioli overwhelmed the flavor of the fresh seafood a bit, detracting from what would have been an excellent opener. We then dug into what the restaurant dubs the “burger ‘special blend’” ($21). The savory burger patty was inventively topped with a salty pork belly, melted provolone and smoked cheddar, tomato, and sauteed onions. For burger purists who prefer no garnish atop their simple hamburger, you haven’t tasted the fantastic flavors The Lion offers with each of these distinct ingredients pairing together so admirably. The side of French fries sprinkled in fresh herbs didn’t hurt the cause either.
We also ordered up the “branzino” ($36), a true staple of ours when dining out. The flaky fish was prepared wonderfully over a bed of king oyster mushrooms, artichokes, some excellent fingerling potatoes, and splashed with some extra virgin olive oil. The dish was delicious in its own right, but proved no match for the A La Carte portion of the menu, where The Lion’s meat lies. The “lamb porterhouse” ($41) simply seemed too savory to pass up. A perfectly cooked medium rare cut and served with its natural jus, the tender red meat was plated with a side of roasted shallots and marble potatoes, and each cut pulled right off of the bone with ease. The exterior was an excellent salted marble char, and the tasty juice burst out of each bite of meat. The additional side of “broccoli rabe and chili” ($10), proved an unnecessary supplement to the rest of our order, leaving a bland bitter finish to an otherwise splendid dinner.
Dining at The Lion was absolutely everything we had anticipated- proving to be an expensive, but also an exquisite two hours. Though getting a reservation here is hardly impossible if you plan sufficiently in advance, from the bar scene to the meal itself, the experience does give off a certain vibe of exclusivity to it. Perhaps for some, The Lion isn’t necessarily appropriate for an ordinary night on the town, but the place does seem to capture the essence of making an evening special. At least for common folk like us.