Large glass windows with light streaming in sets the mood. Close tables but not too close. Seats only 24 but I believe there are a few extra seats at the bar. Simple dark brown tables and chairs. Banquettes on the parameter. The furniture fades into the background because in a setting this small, the people and the food are what shine. Behind the seating is a glass enclosed kitchen which you can peer into standing up.
Little Owl is a partnership between Joey Campanaro (the chef) and Gabriel (didn't catch his last name) who works the room eloquently. Their delight in owing this establishment is apparent.
Conceptually the food is seasonable. They plan on changing the menu 8-10 times a year. I love that. Gives me 8 - 10 times a year to come back. Believe me, I will.
We ordered a Austrian Riesling and began. As always, we like to split everything. The kitchen was gracious enough to recognize that so each plate came out already split. Very smart. We began with the sardine fillets. 2 large filleted sardines, no bones, grilled lightly and served over roasted cauliflower and crisp snow peas mixed with a delicate yet flavorful lemon chili vinaigrette. Excellent. Our other appetizer was the crispy soft shell crab. The crab was light and crispy served over a finely chopped (someone did some serious prepping here) asparagus incorporated into a salsa verde. So summery and crisp. I could have tried a variety of other appetizers. The gravy meatball sliders looked awesome. They are presented 3 meatballs across inside tiny hamburger buns. Now that I have eaten there, I am sure that the taste meets the clever simplicity of the presentation.
We were oohing and aahing at this point. We split 2 fish dishes. The first was a broiled cod. Wow! The cod was cooked perfectly. The first bite was like butter, the fish literally melted in my mouth. Served over a salad of corn and fresh peas mixed with a very light and not too overpowering pesto vinaigrette which enhanced the flavor of the salad and the fish. I loved this dish. The other was the grilled whole fish. We had the Dorado that is served with a celery and olive salad on the side. Crispy fish which easily fell apart when I sliced into it. All good. I couldn't help ordering some sides. This is something I rarely do but I was intrigued by the menu the minute I sat down. There isn't anything on that menu that truly didn't appeal to me.
Side dishes were divine. Large fresh butter beans incorporate with bite sized pieces of escarole that had been cooked with smoked ham hocks and doused with Parmesan. Asparagus home fries was the other side dish. It sounded interesting and was. Crispy pieces of potato mixed in with slices of fried asparagus, scallions and mushroom caps. Really good and very clever but not too heavy as home fries tend to be.
Dessert...how could we not? We were so stuffed at this point but we had to take the plunge. Gabrielle knew what it was going to be before we ordered. Tis the season for strawberries. Baked custard with sliced strawberries and a dollop whipped cream served on top. The warmth of the custard and the sweetness of the strawberries just melted in our mouth. We also did a gelato bowl. Their gelato comes from il Laboratorio del gelato in Tribeca. We had a combo of vanilla, pistachio and ricotta. The ricotta was awesome.
What a wonderful experience. Sincerely one of the best meals I have had all year. The presentation and the tastes were layered yet simple. Joey has a light hand which allows each flavor in a dish speak for itself and at the same time compliment each other. He is a fantastic cook. Gabriel is the perfect groovy host of the front room. A good combination. It is a pleasure to eat out and see the chef and the owner over seeing each detail. It was like being at someone's home for dinner who is an outstanding cook. The dishes were like good modern home cooking. Am I raving? Nothing else to say but truly divine.