the little owl
The Little Owl is a tiny restaurant with a big reputation in a residential area of brownstones and tree-lined streets in the West Village. This cozy space on the ground floor of a corner building has two walls of glass and a tin ceiling brushed with gold. There are only 37 seats -- and owner/chef Joey Campanero keeps a few open for neighborhood residents -- so you need advance reservations.
Campanaro's cooking is straightforward, contemporary, and built around seasonal fresh local ingredients as well as a few imported specialty items. A disciple of Jimmy Bradley, he was executive chef at Bradley's Tribeca restaurant, The Harrison, before opening his own place. He has created two famous meat dishes that never leave the menu. The very thick Big Pork Chop is seasoned with cayenne, curry, coriander, and cumin, and cooked medium rare to keep it juicy. It is presented with Parmesan butter beans and wild dandelion. The equally famous Gravy Meatball Slider is beef, veal, and pork cushioned on a tiny garlic roll. (There's a delicious kick from the pecorino in the mix.)
In summer, you may enjoy soft-shell crabs, or sardine filets, paired simply with snow peas and chili vinaigrette. Before he broils a whole fish, Campanaro likes to coat it with a pesto aioli (a garlicky Provencal mayonnaise) that creates a deliciously salty second skin to keep the flesh moist. The fish is served on a bed of roasted corn, English peas, and red onion. Fresh vegetables are abundant and there is a totally luscious heirloom tomato salad. Dinner daily; brunch on weekends. -- Marian Betancourt