Manhattan during the holidays may be all crowded and touristy, but I still love it. A few weeks ago, while many tourists crammed into mediocre restaurants near the theater district, I made like a local and enjoyed meals with friends at some tiny, buzz-worthy downtown spots and only-in-Manhattan destinations.
Teeny storefront Italian restaurants are popping up all over the West Village. Dell’Anima—a collaboration between an ex-Babbo sommelier and a chef whose résumé includes stints at Eric Ripert’s Le Bernardin and Mario Batali’s Del Posto—is barely a month old. We started our meal with an order of bruschetta, which here is a make-your-own affair with a basket of grilled bread served with small bowls of toppings. We sampled all five of the selections—a deal at $15—including a spreadable hazelnut pesto; a “lily confit” of onions, shallots, and garlic; mostarda with plump raisins; creamy scrambled eggs; and chickpeas with preserved lemon. We wiped those little bowls clean. A rustic, comforting dish of pizzoccheri—wide, flat whole-wheat pasta—with sage, potato, Brussels sprouts, and fontina capped off a evening of delicious carbo-loading. Entrées $17 to $23.
Dell’Anima, 38 Eighth Ave. (at Jane St.); 212-366-6633; dellanima.com.
I wish Washington would take a cue from New York and open up more places like the West Village’s tiny Milk and Cookies—small eateries that specialize in just one food or dish. New York has an all-peanut-butter restaurant, a rice-pudding place, and several dumpling bars. Milk and Cookies sells just what the name implies, plus a few kinds of brownies, coffee, tea, and hot chocolate. I loved the house-made “Oreos”—made from chewy Valrhona chocolate cookies and rich cream filling—but also was tempted to dream up my own cookie creation from a wealth of ingredients (anything from hazelnuts to dried blueberries to butterscotch chips). They’ll have them baked in 20 minutes ($19 a dozen).
Milk and Cookies, 19 Commerce St.; 212-243-1640; milkandcookiesbakery.com.
Alice’s Tea Cup, an homage to Alice in Wonderland with three locations in Manhattan, looks like an eight-year-old girl’s fantasy. Okay, maybe mine too. The tearoom I visited, on the Upper East Side, is decked out with whimsical murals, hanging butterflies, and lots of decorative teapots. We perused the roster of teas—longer than most restaurant wine lists—and couldn’t resist ordering one of the three-tier towers ($22 to $35) that come loaded with scones and tea sandwiches (smoked salmon with dill butter; tea-smoked chicken breast; tuna with cornichons, capers, and mustard). Each diner gets his or her own teapot, which holds enough for several refills of the small, adorably mismatched mugs.
Alice’s Tea Cup, 220 E. 81st St. (two additional locations on the Upper East Side and Upper West Side); 212-734-4832; alicesteacup.com.
On Christmas Eve, we supped on Catalan tapas and sipped flutes of Cava at Mercat, a newish NoHo hotspot. The festive vibe in the dining room carried over to the open kitchen, where we spotted cooks pouring wine into their mouths from a long-spouted pitcher called a porrón. Highlights at the table included a bowl of pea shoots sautéed with golden raisins and pine nuts; a potato-and-onion-filled omelet dusted with paprika; blistered padron peppers stuffed with short ribs; and oven-hot roasted beets with dabs of aïoli. The airy, crunchy churros—with perfectly chewy centers, nary a hint of grease, and a side of hot chocolate for dipping—were a terrific ending to our Spanish Christmas feast. Tapas, $8 to $14.
Mercat, 45 Bond St. (near Lafayette St.); 212-529-8600; mercatnyc.com.