18 Greenwich Avenue (at 10th Street)
New York, NY 10011
On July 4, Oliver, my 90-year-old father-in-law, decided he was strong enough to go out to dinner for the first time after having heart surgery seven weeks earlier. I chose to take him to Rosemary’s, a new Italian place a few blocks from my apartment in the West Village, because he loves to try new places, and because I had applied for a job there, sort of.
My initial interaction with Rosemary’s took place a few weeks before it opened. I saw a write-up in The New York Times dining section mentioning that the new restaurant was thinking about giving cooking classes for kids. Rosemary’s has a rooftop garden where they’re growing herbs, lettuces, and vegetables to use in the restaurant, and the classes are to center on showing local kids how vegetables grow and then teaching them to cook with them. (Considering that most of these local West Village kids also have lovely country homes, I’m not sure how groundbreaking these vegetable demos will be for them, but no matter.) The idea appealed to me, so I walked in while they were still hammering the place together and asked for the e-mail address of Wade Moises, the former chef de cuisine at Eataly and now in charge of Rosemary’s kitchen. I wanted to offer up my considerable teaching expertise. Weeks went by, the place opened, my father-in-law had heart surgery, and I haven’t heard from Mr. Moises. Oh well, you never know. I still might.
So here are some preliminary thoughts about Rosemary’s, based on a pre-opening go see and one dinner since. Not enough for a standard restaurant review, but I never write true critiques. What I do is focus on one special aspect of a place. In the case of Rosemary’s that would be its local produce (very local, since much of it comes from the roof) and its house-made items.
The place is big and airy, with lots of faux rustico touches that are really quite pretty if you don’t examine them too closely. It isn’t the Disneyland of Italian food that Eataly can feel like. My first mission, after procuring a glass of sparkling rosato, was to check out the upstairs garden. It was lush and thriving. It certainly wasn’t big enough to carry the produce load for a large place like this, but it did contain a ton of beautiful basil, and also tomatoes and zucchini blossoms, lots of baby arugula, and herbs, many of which made appearances in our dinner dishes. Everything looked well tended. I’m eager to see how the garden comes together in the future.
There is a flavor of Southern Italy at Rosemary’s. It doesn’t advertise itself as Southern Italian, but its hits of raisins, pine nuts, hot chilies, almonds, anchovies, basil, and lots of lemon are the brash hallmarks of Southern Italian cooking. And there are dishes like caponata, and several labeled as Sicilian.
The menu is broken down into small dishes, salads, pastas, main courses, cheeses, and salumi. I loved the spaghetti with preserved lemon and pickled chilies that Deborah, my mother-in-law, ordered. A touch of parmigiano blended with good olive oil rounded out the stronger flavors for a really nice plate of pasta. I often make something similar that I learned in Palermo years ago, with a flavor that is predominantly fresh lemon. Rosemary’s is more forte. Orecchietti with sausage and broccoli rabe is something we’ve all tasted often. It appears on plenty of Italian menus in this city. But taking the trouble to make both the orecchietti and the sausage on the premises makes a huge difference. The sausage had serious depth of flavor.
Oliver ordered cavatelli with peas, asparagus, and ricotta, and the pasta and ricotta were both homemade, so the result was a chewy pasta with a rich, creamy slick of ricotta—and not too much ricotta, either, so the texture stayed light, not clunky. Deborah started with a chopped salad that was loaded with cubes of ricotta salata and olives, escarole, and capers, another very Southern dish. I love escarole used as a salad green—my mother often served it—so this was a fine combination, as far as I was concerned. I ordered a small dish of cabbage with almonds, raisins, hot chilies, and a little pecorino. It was delicious, and its intense flavor made its small size right. My husband had a celery root and celery salad tossed with anchovy dressing, what they call a celery Caesar. I love anchovy with celery. It’s a combination I often use in my own cooking, but a little goes a long way, and this salad was big. Next time I’d split it.
I followed with two small fish dishes. The first was olive-oil-poached tuna tossed with capers, fried chickpeas, olives, and parsley. The tuna was soft and lovely against the bracing capers and olives, and it was rightly served in a small portion. An octopus salami, called that I imagine because the octopus was sliced really thin, was topped with a sharp sauce of preserved lemon and tomato that to my palate was a little overpowering and salty. We also ordered a house-made capacolla that was very gentle in flavor except for its spicy red dried chili coating. I found it off balance. They also make their own testa, which I’m eager to sample.
On this first try here I found all the dishes well prepared, extremely flavorful, and assembled with high-quality ingredients such as fine olive oil, excellent anchovies and capers, and Maldon sea salt. My only complaint, and it’s not an insubstantial one, is that across the board I found every dish a little too salty. At first I thought it was just the place’s emphasis on salty ingredients, but the three pastas, none containing anything innately salty, were each too salty for me (I think my father-in-law’s taste buds aren’t what they used to be, so he had no problem). This is a common trick used in restaurants to allow flavors to jump out at you and to ensure that the food makes a lasting impression (hopefully a good one). I’m not fond of the trick. I’m trusting, though that at Rosemary’s it’s just a kink that the kitchen will work out as the place settles in. The place hasn’t been open for even a month yet.