October 16, 2017 | BITE: My Journal

The Loyal: Sex/Love/Falling/Veggies

 

Ravenous while waiting at the table for tardy pals, the two of us finish the crudités.

          Of course, the food is wonderful at The Loyal. No one who’s already fallen for chef John Fraser’s work at Dovetail, Nix and Narcissa will be surprised. Less than a week old in this modest 88-seat post on Bleecker Street, The Loyal’s kitchen is already flashing its pedigree. 

 

Drunken eggs and Brussels leaves salad coyly piled to one side are a good beginning.

 

We are fascinated by the unusually long slab of ice in the Hey Bruh vodka cocktail. Photo by Dana Stoddard

          Starting with the drunken eggs, torched with chile oil and topped with a dusting of toasted rice, and the excellent farro with celery root, chewy king oyster mushrooms and the cumin-y warmth of Moroccan chermoula and orange.  Yes, original and delicious. The rigatoni marinara with wet ricotta and Calabrian chiles is a feisty surprise.

The heirloom polenta is decked out with broccoli, cheddar and flutters of truffle.

 

The chef sends Beef Shank Ravioli with chanterelles and spinach.

          The chef sees us and sends the heirloom polenta boldly decked out with broccoli, cheddar, and black truffles. Then he forwards a trio of pumpkin-filled ravioli in a shitake consommé – one for each of us. We decide we must have Parker House rolls after all and, for some of us, swabs of cultured butter.

 

In just a few days since opening, The Loyal seems to have found a loyal bar crowd.

 

Chef John Fraser spots us in the dining room and stops a moment to let Dana Stoddard take this photo.

          The bar is already besieged and the music pounds. We beg Fraser to turn it down. “It’s the West Village,” he says. “You gotta have music.” Yes, the bar skews young, but the population in booths and at tables strikes me as mostly grownups, here, like me, because they delight in Fraser’s food.

The duck is aged nine days for this big, rare duck breast paved with coarsely ground spices.

 

Of course, we had to try the duck fat tots. Even those who avoid fried foods ventured a taste.

          The Loyal is primed with surprises, but we’re not surprised. Tonight’s duck, a large breast cooked rare with honeynut squash, chestnuts, golden beets and raisins, is beyond voluptuous, crusted with a rubble of coarsely ground spices – cumin, coriander, and turmeric.

Dana Stoddard captured the mood of the house as expressed in the Ladies Room sign.

 

Mushroom tempura and crudités to drag through cashew hummus and green goddess spinach dips.

          I expect to love the duck fat tots. What I don’t expect is the light-hearted foreplay. The printed guide to scoring on a first date that comes with dessert. The poetry of Sex/Love/Falling on the business card at the welcome stand.

A West Village dive feel up front gives away to elegance and design as you move to the middle.

          Fraser says he wants this place to be a neighborhood fall-in like Cheers – booths don't have tablecloths, tables do. Then he admits that he hired a poet who wrote the line “Eating was the original sex” and “Love is spontaneous, irresponsible, and can best be summoned by a short film about a fly landing on watermelon during a picnic.”

 

Excellent tempura beech mushrooms are meant to dab with horseradish cream.

 

Farro is topped with celery root, king oyster mushrooms, chermoula and oranges.

          Don’t get nervous. You don't have to fall in love in the next two hours. You don’t have to explain why you are four women tonight, “not singing softly,” as the poet writes, but rather dragging crudités through cashew hummus or green goddess spinach, and sharing marvelous Beech mushroom tempura to dip into horseradish cream. Don’t let the server take that away yet. If no one wants the last two, I’ll take them.

 

It starts with four radishes, then, tonight: smoked trout with sauce gribiche and a sharp caper tang.

 

From the raw bar: rock shrimp with celery and Old Bay.

          I’d be happy just to throw darts at the menu. I like so much of what I’ve tasted. On a second visit I remind myself to order promptly. The kitchen can run slow. Some servers balance plates with an anxious look, as if they expect to drop them. Our waitress tonight is being trailed by an intern who watches her every step. Let’s give them a while to develop Fred Astaire grace.

 

My friend sent me this photo of the burger that I didn’t order because the menu doesn't say burger.

 

The “fish fry” with tomato aioli.

          Try the rock shrimp salad with celery and Old Bay, or Brussels leaves with burnt apple and Point Reyes bleu. (Brussels sprouts, of course. The menu writing is more Seinfeld than Cheers.)  I hear the burger is awesome, but I didn’t order it because I didn’t guess that “Loyale with cheese and Piedmontese beef” is a cute way to say burger without spelling it out.

 

Rigatoni is tossed with spicy pork ragout and topped with melts of fresh ricotta.

 

The lamb t-bone comes in a large chunk with a side of Moroccan pilaf. Our server whisks it away to be sliced.

          Choose a pasta or a grain or a fish and then treat yourself to an impressive hunk of lamb, a T-bone. When I ask for a sharp knife so I can carve, the accommodating Jahnavi (that’s her name) takes the meat away, and brings it back in blushing pink slices, a dish of Moroccan pilaf alongside.

 

Fried ice cream, cannoli and apple pie would not be my first choice for dessert.

          We were too full to consider dessert on that first visit. And some of us are definitely slowing down a week later after that lamb. But my friend who is drinking a Willy Wonka bourbon cocktail with a chocolate swizzle stick wants to try the apple pie with fried ice cream and a cannoli. (Definitely would not be my choice.)

Watching the sundae setups passing by, we decide we’ll have one too for our table. Photo by Stoddard.

          After watching waiters passing with a dozen setups for the $18 sundae, my niece and I want our own. Junk candy-lovers’ pulses speed up at the sight of house-made marshmallows, giant toffee malt balls, Reese’s Pieces, M&Ms, Pixie Stix and lollipops, caramel popcorn, pineapple sauce, chocolate rocks and gummy bears: sweet tidbits to spill over, or nibble with spoonfuls from a big bowl of vanilla, strawberry and chocolate ice cream.

 

The $18 sundae set comes with four or five scoops of ice cream and a collection of iconic candies.

          It seems that Fraser’s first kitchen job was at an outlet of an ice cream parlor that served Zoo sundaes, delivered by stretcher with a siren screaming. As you walked out the door you passed the candy display, the chef tells me. He’s revived the sundae theme here, complete with pop candy and gold foil-wrapped chocolate coins.

 

          “We all have dreams,” the hired poet writes. And this is John Fraser’s latest hangout. He calls it “The Loyal” because he hopes that’s how the crowd will be. Like Cheers. I’ll be competing with you now to get a rez, I suppose.

 

 289 Bleecker Street just east of Seventh Avenue South. 212 488 5800. Monday to Thursday 5:30 pm to 10 pm. Friday and Saturday 5:30 pm to 11 pm. Till 1 am at the bar. Open Sundays 5:30 to 10 pm, starting October 22.

 

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