Cornelia St. Cafe: Cozy Defined
Restaurant Row on Cornelia St yields many semi-precious gems, including Italian favorite Po, West Village mainstay Pearl Oyster Bar, and this cozy number, the Cornelia St. Cafe. Part restaurant and part cabaret, this almost 35-year old brainchild of three artists exudes warmth through its decor, cuisine, and service.
Originally an artist’s cafe, the space is eclectic and homey with exposed brick, kitschy knickknacks, Americana photographs, soft lighting, and multiple rooms that flow as a home would. The front oak bar (salvaged from The Bowery) is boistrous with parties waiting to be seated for dinner or to be shown down to the basement-level performance space. A fireplace blazes in the back dining room, while delicious aromas waft from the open kitchen ‘window’ into the front rooms. Cornelia St. Cafe buzzes with vibrant conversation, yet the acoustically sound dining rooms actually allow you to hear your dining companions without strain.
The food is genuinely international, pulling inspiration from the Middle East, France, Italy, coastal America, and even Southeast Asia. Expect careful and well-thought-out interpretations of classics like Bouillabaise, Country Pate, Crab Cakes, Boudin Blanc, Steak Frites, and Risotto. The diverse and extensive menu truly has something for every palate.
My dining party started out with the Flat Crust Pizza Provencal and the Spinach & Pear Salad. The pizza provencal is was drippy and flavorful – not exactly something to write home about, considering the depth of pizza offerings in this pizza-frantic city, yet still a satisfying starter. The Spinach & Pear salad was touted by my father as one of the best salads he’s ever had. A savory combination of dried cranberry vinaigrette, blue cheese, and toasted walnuts elevated this offering to the upper echelons of starter salads.
Aiming for warm and cozy cuisine to stave off the bitterly cold winds, we moved on to the Grilled Breast of Chicken, the Gnocchi Merguez, and the Pistachio Rack of Lamb. The grilled chicken, always a gamble in really any restaurant, was serviceably good. It was well-seasoned with spices and herbs and served with a creamy dollop of garlic mashed potatoes; the slender chicken breast was a bit tough on the outside, but not dry and thoroughly overcooked. The gnocchi merguez was the ultimate comfort food dish: pillowy potato gnocchi in a thick and creamy tomato white wine sauce with generous chunks of spicy merguez sausage; it encapsulated perfectly the warmth and simplicity of home cookin’. The pistachio rack of lamb was just plain yummy with a nutty crusty exterior and tender pink interior, a silky port-wine sauce, and parsley mashed potatoes (oh, how I wish they had been garlic…). It’s not complicated or schmancy, but simply good.
The service is quick, efficient, and friendly. There’s no BS here – they don’t keep you waiting, and they don’t stop to have an hour-long conversation with you table-side (which is just fine with me). The food came out of the kitchen at record pace, piping hot and fresh.
All in all, Cornelia St. Cafe is the type of restaurant you go to for good unpretentious food, a place to cozy up with a robust bottle of red wine, a place to partake in vibrant and enjoyable conversation. It’s cheap and simple, no fuss, no muss. Perfect for snuggling up with a date or taking your parents out to dinner, Cornelia St. Cafe just feels comfortable.