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“The Little Owl”

  Occasion: Cuisine: Area: Cost: Rating:
  Night Out New American West Village Moderate Great

Something occurred to me while dining at Little Owl that often slips my mind while eating at Megaplex feeding huts like Nobu 57, Buddakan and Spice Market. It was a thought that went beyond how wonderful chef Joey Campanaro’s food was, and how graciously (almost lovingly) partner and manager Gabriel Stulman welcomes guests to their petite postage stamp-as-restaurant. What I felt while eating at The Little Owl was the same feeling I had the first time I had dinner at Tia Pol, at El Bocadito, at Little Giant, and Lassi, and at spots like The Tasting Room and Extra Virgin when they first opened. It was the feeling of watching someone’s dream come true. It was this overwhelming notion that everyone of us sitting at one of The Little Owls’ eight tightly spaced tables—passing platters of glossy slices of Spanish cured ham, pulling plump saucy meatball sliders off plates (staining cheeks and skirts), and fighting over the last bits of asparagus home fries—was participating in a real life dream come true of two young and wildly talented forces in our industry.

It’s rare when dining out to think about the effort and the time and the years of planning that go into opening a restaurant. Why should you really? Your mission is to enjoy your food, your wine, your experience. But once in a while you get it. You get that this is the culmination of days on end of dreaming, planning, hoping, and saving. You feel the love, the joy and the energy of the culmination of that dream in the grace of your meal. And that’s what struck me at the Little Owl. It was part awe, part honor, and part deep respect, but mostly—and I know this is sappy, but what can I say, I am a complete sap—it just made me feel really good. And, as it turned out, the food helped keep those good vibrations going all night long. This dream has the goods to back it up.

Joey Campanarao, as many of you know, was the longtime chef at the Harrison, and then was the opening chef at Pace (which is now the dreadful Mr. Chow). His culinary touch harkens to his Italian-American heritage; he favors dishes prepared with that minimalist Italian sensibility, food that is rooted in the simple beauty of the season’s ingredients and that is seasoned so well that the notion of added salt or pepper is comical.

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