A sister restaurant to The Eddy, the equally charming nook of a restaurant in the East Village, Wallflower is a modest, unassuming space whose friendly staff and attention to a depth of detail make it a remarkable restaurant for New York insiders.
True to its name, Wallflower is a tiny, intimate space that seems to cling to invisibility along a dark stretch of the West Village just off Greenwich Avenue. Easy to walk by without noticing much more than a mysterious, warm glow coming from a small set of windows, entering Wallflower feels like a clandestine act by those looking for something a little less superficial.
And of course, the rendezvous that awaits inside does not disappoint.
Under the new executive chef, Derrick Paez, the food is notably stronger than in the restaurant’s earliest days, serving more substantial plates whose creativity is on par with the cocktail program. A 4-course, $65 tasting menu presents thoughtful, Gallic-inspired bites that emphasize the lighter, more elegant dimensions of rich flavors, showcasing the unique culinary sensibility coming out of this tiny kitchen behind the bar.
In particular, the tuna tartare with truffle vinaigrette and scallions is smoother and more buttery than previously thought possible, hitting the palette almost like a savory custard. The lentil salad with nduja sausauge, sunchokes, and cilantro also has a surprising clarity even among its many earthy flavors, making for an unpretentious bite with incredible depth.
The secondary courses in the tasting menu are served family style for the table next to a heaping mound of toasted rounds of baguette. The chèvre is surprisingly light and fluffy, having been beaten with honey and a lavender-basil cream that adds a subtle, herbaceous sweetness to the spread. It can unfortunately overshadow the jar of chicken liver mousse beside it, whose lack of salt restricts the spread to the sort of one-dimensionality of butter, and this wallflower should be nothing close to shallow or peripheral. Nonetheless, it is all meant to be spread liberally on the toasts, a much needed dose of free-wheeling flexibility in an otherwise restrained menu.
The mains can vary radically in size and portion, with the duck served in just two small slices over too much jus for the plate, and with the bacon-wrapped pork loin large enough to satisfy two hungry diners. If only this were the converse, for while the pork has the sensation of a rich piece of dark meat taken from Thanksgiving dinner leftovers, the duck is light and sweet, with crispy roasted greens adding the perfect balance to the thick, dark jus and the creamy cauliflower puree beneath the meat.
Of course, all of this food is guided by a menu of adventurous cocktails so very appropriate for this miniature shadow of a space. Created by a former bartender at Daniel, there is an element of rebellion in these high-end concoctions, with aquavit shaken with vodka, lemon, salt and black pepper in one called the Stockholm Syndrome.
Indeed, capturing a unique, New York energy with its atmosphere of half-secrecy, half-opulence, Wallflower has a lot of perks, and with its commitment to serious cuisine with a depth of both French and New American flavors, any awkwardness can easily be forgiven. This is, after all, what the wallflowers in New York are all about.