Archive for the 'Restaurant Reviews' Category

I Might Be Wrong: Bell Book & Candle

The “I Might Be Wrong” series will consist of restaurant reviews based on a single visit. No serious restaurant reviewer would write a restaurant review after only one visit. But I feel justified for two reasons: First, I am not a serious restaurant reviewer. And second, first impressions matter a lot. Plus, with limited budget, time, and dietary resources, I wouldn’t be able to make it to enough restaurants to write enough reviews for Supposedly Good. So it’s possible “I Might Be Wrong” about the restaurant from only one review, but I also might be right. Plus I really wanted to use a Radiohead song title to describe a series about NYC restaurants.

Bell Book & Candle
Rating: 8.5

141 W. 10th St
New York, NY 10014

(212) 414-2355

Neighborhood: West Village
Price range: $$ (out of 4)
Hype factor: !!!! / !!!!! (out of five)
Accepts reservations (phone) and credit cards

Like a number of movements in the environmental and foodie realm, the local food movement has gained mainstream attention in recent years as chefs and restaurateurs begin to recognize the rich possibilities afforded by sourcing foods grown in their home regions, while also cutting down on wasteful emissions related to the long-distance transportation of food. A major problem encountered by chefs in densely populated areas, particularly in New York City, is the lack of farmland close to the city, increasing the need for imported produce.

One answer emerged in recent years in response to this issue: urban farming. While this is not a particularly new idea in the grand arc of history (urban farming existed in ancient Persia), the notion of applying it in a sustainable way in modern urban America (beyond simply a demonstration project) is indeed relatively new. Roberta’s restaurant (a Supposedly Good favorite), located in the post-industrial landscape of Bushwick, Brooklyn, which opened in 2008, was among the pioneers in the space. The restaurant sources a number of ingredients from a farm in an adjacent lot and event hosts an online radio channel devoted to “new ideas about our food systems, our culture, and our environment.”

Following Roberta’s footsteps in 2009/2010, a number of larger scale urban farms have opened up around New York City, mainly in Brooklyn (where there is relatively more space for such things than in dense Manhattan). Eagle Street Rooftop Farm and Brooklyn Grange Farm are among the major ones, but there are probably more coming soon. In a recent report released by the NYC city council, “Increas[ing] urban food production” was listed as one of the primary goals, indicating that government incentives will likely complement increased demand in supporting the growth urban farming in the near future.

Being an avid follower of the urban farming movement, my ears perked with heightened interest when this summer I heard a new restaurant called Bell Book & Candle was soon opening where 60% of the produce used was going to be sourced on the building’s roof. This may be the world’s first modern “Rooftop to Table” restaurant, taking the “Farm to Table” mantra to a new dimension.

Although the above-linked Nightline story ran in August, the restaurant did not open until this past Wednesday night (December 8, 2010). I managed to visit the restaurant with a friend this past Saturday night to see whether Bell Book & Candle actually lived up to its hype.

BB&C is located in a basement storefront on West 10th Street in the West Village (right off of Greenwich Av), directly across the street from another newcomer, Lowcountry, on a strip that also includes De Santos and Highlands. As you walk down the stairs into the exposed brick interior of the restaurant, one cannot help but feel like entering a trendy wine cellar, replete with sustainable furnishings, relatively new indie music playing on low volume, and the like.

What is surprising about Bell Book & Candle is how skillfully the sustainable ethos is incorporated into the restaurant without coming across as preachy. Nearly everything on the menu includes locally sourced ingredients and the staff at the restaurant is more than happy to point out on every occasion that 60% of the produce is sourced from the roof of the restaurant. But there is no paragraphs-long supplement on the menu about their “vision” of sustainable produce and the reasoning behind the restaurant. On the menu are items which spotlight the rooftop garden, such as the Rooftop Mixed Greens, Roasted Beets and Efren’s House-Made Burrata Salad, and the Grilled & Roasted Seasonal vegetables. But the menu also includes traditional comfort food items like the BBC Burger, Lobster Tacos, and Warm Pretzels. This is a modern American comfort food restaurant that just so happens to be helping lead a food revolution.

As expected, the food at the restaurant was quite good. I started with the Frisee and Fennel Salad with warm pork belly and New York Apple. The fennel was incredibly fresh. The pork belly was delicious without overwhelming the fennel and other produce. For my main course, I ordered the Braised Beef Short Ribs with Yukon Mashed Potatoes, and Caramelized Brussels Sprouts (I attempted to order the Monkfish, but was informed the restaurant did not have any more). The quality of the beef used was notably excellent, the preparation very tender and otherwise near-perfection. The accompanying Brussels Sprouts were also notably tasty. The presentation of the dish was rather simple, however, with the focus more on the content of the food. I also managed to try the Amish Roasted Half Chicken, which my dining partner ordered, which was of similar quality as the short ribs. For dessert, I ordered the Panna Cotta with Goat Milk Caramel. While the Panna Cotta itself was very good, the caramel sauce accompanying the cake was among the best I’ve tasted.

The biggest issue encountered with Bell Book & Candle was the service, which while friendly, was rather disorganized (not entirely surprising for a four-day old restaurant). We were seated over half an hour after the time of our reservation. Fortunately, the bar area in the front of the restaurant is an inviting space, with an acceptable amount of seating and a good amount of standing space to spare diners from the elements. Additionally, we didn’t even realize we were missing our pre-dinner bread until over halfway through the meal when a couple at the next table was seated next to us and received theirs upon sitting down. Finally, we attempted to order the Eggplant Puree as a side dish, but the dish never managed to make it to the table. It did manage to make it onto the receipt (which the waitstaff took off without a problem).

Hopefully Bell Book & Candle can work through its service issues, because they have a great concept and very good execution on their food offerings, along with quite reasonable prices. If so, this could become a go-to neighborhood restaurant able to withstand volatile trends in the New York restaurant industry, while also serving as a demonstration concept for future restaurants around the country of the possibilities of rooftop farming and the local food movement. On the whole, it was an enjoyable casual Saturday night dinner and I would recommend it to any of my friends.