Grub/Spirits Restaurant Reviews — 17 April 2012
Minetta Tavern: A Restaurant Review

Minetta Tavern
113 MacDougal Street, West Village, (212) 475-3850
Getting There: 6  to Bleecker Street

When one thinks of New York City classic restaurants, ancient places like the now defunct Rainbow Room and the still bustling Sardie’s come to mind. Each of these establishments fed and entertained guests throughout the decades without embracing change. Yet, one unique restaurant in the famed West Village has had two distinct lives. Built in the 1930′s, Minetta Tavern served as a Italian joint for the beatnik generation and throughout the latter half of the century it retained this status. In 2009, restaurant impresario Keith McNally came along to change that. McNally’s revival would transform the eatery into a upscale joint fitting today’s sentiments, while bringing with it modernizations of classic dishes now revered city-wide and a corresponding renaissance amongst the finicky eaters of Manhattan.

Our group of similarly minded meat lovers made a reservation for a Tuesday might to finally check out Minetta’s signature dishes we had been hearing friends and co-workers rave about for some time. Reservations are a must for Minetta Tavern. Even three years after its re-opening, this place is hot. Upon our arrival, the front bar area was packed with those waiting for a table and other simply taking in the post-happy hour scene while still sipping craft beers and cocktails. Without even seeing the dining room, the amount of effort that went into restoring Minetta Tavern was immediately clear. The front bar area is simply stunning and traditional looking. Low light fills a space where ornate pictures and molding round out it’s true to form 1930s decor.

Walking toward our table, we quickly realized that the views from the front bar were simply an appetizer for the visual feast we would happen upon in the main dining room. Each table felt like a ticket to the past. It was old New York all around us. At that point it was most definitely time to eat and drink.

Minetta’s menu is an impressive cross section of all things meat and fish. With a relatively extensive selection of different appetizers the ‘Roasted Bone Marrow’ ($18) stood out immediately. This perfect for sharing starter is served with baguette soldiers and a tasty sweet shallot confit. Three over-sized pieces of bone came on this order and they overflowed with the salty meat jelly we’ve come to adore. After we had scrapped the last bone dry, it was time to order our entrees. In the sense of full disclosure we had a good idea of what we would order for our main dishes even before making our hard to secure reservation.

The ‘Black Label Burger’ ($26) has taken on legendary status in New York City in only a few short years. This hamburger is a labor of love with the meat used being a specially made Pat La Frieda combination of choice cuts, and its cooking method is a science. Whenever tasting one of the City’s signature burgers, we feel that it is imperative to order the burger just like a steak- medium rare. The perfectly cooked (and we mean, perfectly cooked) burger is topped with an ample amount of caramelized onions that only enhance the experience, and is served up sans cheese and sans ketchup. This is a serious burger, for serious burger lovers. Admittedly, a $26 hamburger is certainly on the higher end of the emerging New York City burger spectrum, but the mix of meats here is downright special, and Minetta’s may not have a peer in town. At the very least, it’s in the discussion.

During our inaugural visit to Minetta Tavern we experienced an atmosphere and meal like none other. It is true that prices and personalities might be a little off the chart at a place this popular. But in the end it is simply too good to pass up on those counts. Try it once, and you will be clamoring to the phone to make a second reservation. And hey, you might even run into two world famous rockers like we did, finding Steven Van Zandt and Sting sitting down at separate tables to eat on this night. Yes, the ‘Black Label Burger’ is just that good.

- Jay Rubin

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