Amid the bustle, New York City has restaurants that allow a little peace and quiet.
This fall, I visited Paris. On the recommendation of a friend of a friend, I dropped into Le Chardenoux, a whisper of a restaurant in the 11th Arrondissement. I bring it up because that tiny space was the ideal cozy restaurant: low light, just a handful of seats and that purr of soft, latent energy that you can find only in intimate places.
In square miles, New York City is about seven times the size of Paris. The search for hushed corners can feel overwhelming, but they can often be found in restaurants. They provide a chance to escape, for just a moment, from the chaos of city life into something like peace and quiet.
102 Years of Cozy in the West Village
Any mission for peace and quiet should include the West Village. I recently visited the Waverly Inn and Garden on Bank Street. The 102-year-old restaurant reopened in 2006 and counts among its investors the editor Graydon Carter. As the Times reporter Leslie Kaufman wrote in this 2008 time capsule of an article, the Waverly Inn was once an exclusive place, where walk-ins might be told that the restaurant was fully booked for the night, even with empty tables in sight.
Today, that isn’t so much the case. I was informed that, yes, it was fully booked (the restaurant uses Resy), but that the six-seat bar next to a crackling fireplace was first come first served. Other elements that haven’t changed: the Edward Sorel mural; the very mid-2000s menu, including the 10-out-of-10 chicken potpie that’s served year-round; and the homey interior with its low-slung ceilings and various tchotchkes. (Though the “Mailer for Mayor” coasters seem a bit gauche.)
Revel in Southern Comfort
If the Waverly Inn is running on the memory of a gilded past, Buttermilk Channel in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, is running on something a little more down-home. Sure, it’s low-lit and warm, but I derive most of my comfort from the food, which is of the Southern persuasion. That means more than passable deviled eggs (with smoked trout and trout roe, because this is still New York City), dense buttery cornbread and buttermilk fried chicken that rises to the incredibly high bar set by Popeyes. And you can get in, like, today, which is the ultimate kind of comfort when you desperately need to go out for a meal.
In the Company of Strangers
And then there’s the kind of coziness that comes with proximity to others, the kind that gives you that “we’re all just people on a rock flying through space” feeling. That’s certainly the case at S & P Lunch, which Pete Wells reviewed this month. He wrote that it still embodies the rough-and-tumble diners that used to exist on every corner of the city, down to the “ratty red vinyl” stools patched together with tape. And he had a lot of love for the sandwiches, especially the Lil’ Shonda, with pastrami, Muenster and pickled green tomatoes.
It’s places like these that give you the sense of feeling wrapped up in the grand tradition of life in a sardine can of a city. Recently, I felt it so strongly when I ate at Second Avenue Deli in Manhattan, beside people from every walk of life, and when I sat at one of the dozens of tables at Park Asia in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. There, I was surrounded by generations of families, including the chosen ones you continually build when you live in a city of great impermanence and quick friendships. There’s coziness in numbers, and in the experience of being a small part of something very, very big. Much bigger than Paris.
I’d love to hear about your favorite cozy restaurants. Just shoot me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org. And Happy (almost) New Year!
In Other News …
There’s no restaurant review this week, but it’s as good a time as any to write your “To Eat” list. Here are Pete Wells’s top restaurants, dishes and inexpensive meals of 2022, in case you missed them.
Openings: Kebabs and other Indian street foods are the main draw at Kebab aur Sharab, a new restaurant on the Upper West Side; the space that housed Agern at Grand Central Terminal is now the farm-to-table restaurant Cornelius; and yet another piano bar has arrived, this time on the rooftop of the Royalton Park Avenue in NoMad.
Strobe lights, a disco ball — a toilet? At some restaurants, the bathrooms are just as much a draw as the food, Priya Krishna reports.
Tejal Rao wrote about California’s decades-long obsession with variations on the hippie sandwich, alfalfa sprouts and all, and spotlighted some modern iterations of the beloved classic.
Big, briny flavors, crispy chicken skin, communal dining: Kim Severson reported on the restaurant and food trends you should look out for in 2023.