October 22, 2012 | BITE: My Journal

Hitting Trends: The Library at The Public



We can’t stop eating the parmesan popcorn even though we’d like it in sticky balls
We can’t stop eating the parmesan popcorn even though we’d like it in sticky balls.



          How do you turn on nightlife heat?  How can you tell it’s happening?  Well, The Library at the Public -- brand new, not yet finished, menu still in flux -- is already booked full. Diners are standing, milling about. “It’s a trend,” my trend-collector pal, assures me. 


          “Late dining upstairs in a theater?” I ask


          “No, standing next to your table schmoozing the crowd.”


It’s true you look up and see Rockwell Group’s industrial lights not the lowish ceiling.


          So here it is, in a smart David Rockwell plotted room – typically laid-back and comfortable, with industrial touches. That’s star chef Andrew Carmellini overseeing the kitchen drill.  And you can count on Josh Pickard, his partner at The Dutch in Soho and Locanda Verde in Tribeca, to cast a grownup, cool scene with professional service.


As the evening goes on, savvy lounge lizards stand up and lean on each other.


          Keep looking. It’s hidden away inconveniently above the lobby, so you have to know it’s there. That’s always a trend. And take this as a satisfied first impression.  These friends I’m seeing tonight like to come early so they can start with cocktails at the bar. I like what my pal Barry’s having from a list bylined Tiffany Short.  Old Overholt Rye and Talisker 10 year (whatever that is) give a tough edge to the “Dandy Riot” with its overtones of Aperol and Angostura. I like it better than my friend Henry’s “Johnny the Fox,” a shake of Hine cognac, Madeira, walnut liquor and orange bitters.  I can smell the nuts a foot from my nose.


I’m challenging my friends to discern the wasabi in this dip for the crudities.


          We get the waiter to bring pizza popcorn steeped in parmigiana, a staple of Joe’s Pub next door, even before he delivers a second round of drinks, to eat while we discuss our order. Already we’re munching and analyzing. Wouldn’t the chewy explosions be better stuck together in cheesy clusters? Maybe.


Popcorn, pickles and pig are trends that demand determined denial.


          We flirt with the menu, ordering five dishes from Act l, two from Act ll, three from Act lll. Did Carmellini start the pickle trend at Locanda? I only know our town prickles with a new wave of pickling. These are salty and tangy and sharp and in the case of crisp bread and butter rounds, sweet: carrots, cauliflower, dills. I’m not a pickle person. I’m not a picklepuss either. Something must be going on with pickles. I try to get excited. It’s a trend. Where is the bread? I’m alarmed thinking “no bread” is trending too.


After many a summer, Andrew Carmellini’s calamari tastes better than a swan.


          I don’t mind being distracted by tacos (we’ve asked for $30 worth so we can each have our own). The little hill of shrimp in salsa verde is superior taco fare and delicious, the cornmeal carrier itself not so.  Barry is the only one of our six-some who insists he can taste wasabi in the crudités dip. But he’s the chef who perfected tuna wasabi pizza, so what can we say? Malt vinegar mayo’d fries get a run at our table too, though to my taste the marvelous house-made chips with the pulled pork roll are even better. I try them in ketchup, chipotle, the last of the mayo.


These days an evening without sweet, sticky ribs is an event to remark upon.


          Then we’re all caught up by the remarkable flavor of crisp fried calamari to drag through chipotle sauce. Good that Barry thought ahead to order two portions.  And good there are   fries left to mop up the chipotle.  I’m not sure why fennel-glazed St. Louis ribs are reserved for Act ll. I’d like one in each act  -- not too chewy, not too melting. As it is, half a masterly rib is not enough for me.


Short ribs or ribs, so hard to choose.  Order another drink and have both.


          For the preservation of our arteries, one of us might have chosen the trout. But when this group of regulars convenes, we tend to go for pig flavored with denial. Tonight instead of universal pork, the kitchen sends out marvelous short rib goulash with caraway sour cream, and rosy grilled lamb chops smeared with harissa alongside couscous salad. 


Daniel at BouludSud kicked up heat withharissa on lamb. I wonder if Carmellini knows.


          Josh Pickard spots our crew and stops by to let us know The Library is still a work in progress. Even the library of The Library is a pale shadow after the brilliance of NoMad’s soaring bibliotechnique by Thatcher Wine (Barry’s son as he loves to remind us.). Here the actual shelves have not yet arrived. No one minds the low ceiling, he assures us, because the Rockwell Group’s clever lights make it fade away. And there will be more memorabilia of Joseph Papp on the walls.


Soft-serve and a cookie plate at 2 a.m. keep Mr. Softee reveries alive.


          Just to prove I don’t have to be in charge of the world, I let my friends order dessert, especially when I hear them focusing on the Gala apple cobbler. I’ve never met a cobbler I could resist. The right apple for taste and texture went into this one. The chocolate and vanilla soft serve is intense and satiny. Peanut butter cookies don’t move me. But this one is shockingly fudgy, reminiscent of a Reese’s.


A good, old fashioned, apple crumble without basil or rosemary, is a joy.


          Carmellini has emerged from the kitchen to greet guests he knows. He confides that he might change the whole menu tomorrow. Henry begs him for the peanut butter cookie recipe. The chef just smiles. The passel of partners here think they’ve got a winner, especially when downtown lounge lizards and lizettes realize they’ll find actors between rehearsals and after the show.  It’s not like Lafayette south of Astor Place is the end of the world.  After all, Indochine across the street has survived for 28 years. 


425 Lafayette Street between Astor Place and East 4th Street. Mezzanine. 212 539 8777. Open daily from 5:30 pm till 2 am.


Photographs may not be used without permission from Gael Greene, Copyright 2012. All rights reserved.


Patina Restaurant Group