85 West Broadway near Chambers Street, Tribeca
Getting There: 1,2,3,A,C to Chambers Street
Restaurant Review: Little Park
With a running list of restaurants in New York City alone that reads like the very top of the Zagat guide, restaurateur and Chef Andrew Carmellini could very easily focus on his existing businesses and live quite comfortably for the rest of his days. Instead, each of his restaurant openings are met with both buzz and fanfare regardless of the fact that each one is so markedly different. Tribeca’s Locanda Verde remains one of Manhattan’s most popular modern hot spots, The Dutch, a dimly lit ode to delectable comfort fare, Lafayette, a massive downtown space that could double as an opulent French Brasserie, and of course Bar Primi, the approachable take on casual Italian cuisine. But it’s Tribeca’s Little Park which sits off to the side of the trendy Smyth Hotel with décor reminiscent of little more than a trendy and upscale little diner where Chef Carmellini is arguably doing his best work, despite it being his most recent opening (November 2014).
At first glance, the design inside Little Park is hardly what you’d expect from a downtown restaurant that’s received so much praise. The mostly beige and brown interior is earmarked by curved banquettes surrounding much of the space with cylindrical orbs hanging from the ceiling to ensure the entire dining area is well lit. Both the lighting and booths combine for an experience that feels more like a fancy breakfast inside of a chain hotel than one of the area’s finest establishments. But somehow given the amount of detail that goes into each finely presented dish, the entire setup works just fine. You’ll want to see everything that’s served to your table- from the hand-crafted drinks to the carefully plated fare.
Conceptually Little Park has been labeled farm-to-table but with those three buzzwords being utilized so liberally all over town, it’s utterly useless to lump this restaurant in with the fray. Instead, the dishes are inventive, often exploding with an array of flavors wherein each ingredient counts- none are wasted, and the results are often exceptional. Not merely good, but great. At dinner, the sometimes revolving menu features a preponderance of reasonably priced items and entrees with less than a handful exceeding $30. And while the dishes are certainly vegetable focused, the restaurant never quite leaves the comfort zone of what’s made so many of the Chef’s previous openings so wildly successful.
Pastas pair with whole grains in the menu’s starchiest portion where hunks of fresh peekytoe crab and thin slices of baby asparagus decorate the fantastic “Farro Tagliatelle” ($19). Served perfectly al dente, the long flat wheat strands are deliciously enhanced by a bowl of a subtle and rich seasonal broth. Crispy green bibb lettuce bowls meanwhile serve as vegetable shells for the “Long Island Squid Cups” ($18). Nicely seasoned grilled baby tentacles and dense peanuts overstuff the otherwise generously portioned appetizer in entirely distinctive fashion, like no squid dish that we’ve ever tasted.
Though the menu may be a bit abbreviated for some- there are only four seafood and four meat offerings after all- it’s Little Park’s attention to the little details in each dish that makes everything else around them a mere footnote. Previously we’ve been left awed by Chef Carmellini’s duck dishes at The Dutch and at Lafayette so it’s hardly a surprise that the “Long Island Duck” ($22) at Little Park is so exquisite. Priced at just $22, the sole strip of tender duck meat is predictably diminutive but sensational and utterly memorable nonetheless. The salty and crispy exterior paired with a juicy pink center sits atop a plate-basting of sweet red cherries, with a provided heaping of slightly bitter Swiss chard for balance. A bold statement for certain, this combination may be the finest duck currently being served in Manhattan – at an absolutely unbeatable price point no less.
Suffice it to say, with each subsequent dish managing to exceed its mouthwatering predecessor, our most recent experience at Little Park was a phenomenal one from start to finish. Our advice: secure yourself a reservation now, tuck yourself into a corner banquette and be prepared to be wowed by the local, sustainable and organic courses prepared at Little Park, one of New York’s truly excellent restaurants.
Rundown of the Meal
Eggplant Caponata ($14)
Pasta & Whole Grains
Farro Tagliatelle ($19)*
Fish + Seafood
Long Island Squid Cups ($18)*
Long Island Duck ($22)*
* Meal Highlight