Gardenia
 
 

A mediterranean oasis in the West Village

By James Oliver Cury

You’re not a real New Yorker until you’ve gotten lost somewhere downtown and discovered a side-street gem of a restaurant. We’ll save you the geographic uncertainty and share a find in the West Village. Quasi-hidden on Downing Street between Varick and Bedford, Gardënia is the place to go for Italian-Spanish-Portuguese food without the neighborhood’s usual soul-crushing crowds and waits.

Co-owners Antonio Pezzella and Vitor Proenca have curated the menu into a greatest-hits package of southern European dishes they’ve been eating all their lives. Pezzella, from Abruzzo, Italy, grew up near the Adriatic Sea, fished as a child, and takes great pride in the seafood. The yellowtail in Gardënia’s crudo di ricciola, for example, takes what could be an underwhelming fish and makes it remarkable with streaks and sprinkles of pomegranate foam, pepperoncini (chile peppers), orange, and watermelon radish. Grilled baby octopus with roasted herb potatoes may sound less adventurous, but the tender tentacles come with three types of sauces sketched on the plate like tiny thought bubbles.

Proenca, who hails from Portugal, is behind the classic pasteis de bacalhau (salted cod croquettes). And for those who can’t make up their mind about which fish to order, there is always the risotto alla pescatora arborio with shrimp, calamari, clams, and mussels in a light red tomato sauce—or the Catalan paella.
There is a dish for every type of meat you might want, too, whether it’s pork loin ribs, braised beef short rib stew, Provencal sautéed chicken, or grilled lamb (pictured below), a stunner consisting of four small chops served with fennel purée, grilled vegetables, and a fig-balsamic reduction. And all but two dishes on the menu cost less than $30.

The wine list skews mostly to Italy and France, and rightfully so, though the Spanish Albariño is very popular, and bottles run $50 to $70. Cocktails—at $14 to $16 a pop—mine more than just Mediterranean territory; there are variations on margaritas, sangrias, and mojitos, as well as a gently floral lavender negroni and a crisp black and pink old fashioned that mixes rye whiskey, three types of bitters, saffron, and black and pink peppercorns.

Gardënia is essentially one big airy space with blond wood floors, white chairs, a skylight, a backlit bar, and plenty of plants. The music is there, but not too loud. Garden party, anyone?

hours

Mon–Thu 11:30 AM–10:30 PM; Fri 11:30 AM–11 PM; Sat 11 AM–11 PM; Sun 11 AM–10 PM

price range

$26 (pork loin ribs) to $32 (Catalan paella)
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