Waverly Inn: Ye Must Try for a ‘New York’ Experience
The Waverly Inn is perhaps the West Village’s most notorious celebrity hangout since Beatrice’s closing, coming complete with a fabled reservation policy and enough buzz to attract honey bees. You’d think such pedigree would create an atmosphere so snooty that you’d need a chiropractor to get all the cricks out of your neck (from keeping your nose in the air.) On the contrary, I was pleasantly surprised by the warm and congenial atmosphere fostered by the Inn’s staff.
The Waverly Inn is a cross between Minetta Tavern and an old rural manor estate. The front rooms are dark and creaky, romantic in the way that B&Bs are, with polished and stately wooden furniture, shadowy corners to curl into, small golden table lamps, and a sweeping painted mural. The look is that of an old boy’s supper club with rich red leather booths, rows of faded and fusty books, and vintage photographs of New York society scattered helter-skelter. The multi-room set-up creates plenty of alcoves for shy bigwigs to hide in and makes each table somehow seem special and unique. The back “garden” is truly gorgeous. A glass ceiling, covered in tangled ivy, successfully gives the illusion of being on the back patio of an estate, letting in the soft glow of the moon at night; lanterns hang, shedding a low golden glow over the white-table clothed tables and scarlet chairs. A fireplace crackles when the weather gets chilly, with two iron majestic cats guarding the flames. Curious passersby try to peer through the ivy covered windows.
In the words of our chatty and charming waiter, the Waverly Inn serves “American comfort food with a twist.” No, this is by no means revelatory in the New York dining community, yet the kitchen at the Inn takes care in preparing its food, and thus it is flavorful, satisfying, and elegantly prepared. On the whole, the starters and desserts are better than the main courses. Start with a light and refreshing chickpea salad, or perhaps a set of addictive crab cakes, served plump and meaty with Old Bay aioli. The tuna tartare is tasty and well-done, though unoriginal, with large lumps of dark pink tuna, tossed with avocado, diced hard-boiled eggs, and a zesty mustard emulsion. Fresh and surprising, the octopus is not your garden-variety octopus starter, served spindly with the salty kick of olives and the curious crunch of celery. The starters are seafood-heavy, small enough to not overwhelm the meal, and generally verdant, satisfyingly salty, and fresh.
The mains courses are classic American favorites, ranging from a New York strip to a cheeseburger to chicken pot pie, mac n’ cheese, free-range roast chicken, and cod. The white truffle mac n’ cheese is the house special and for $125, it is arguably one of the most decadent entrees in Manhattan. Thick, creamy, doused in truffle oil, and topped with thick and generously sprinkled shavings of white truffle, the ‘main event’ entree is outrageous, luxurious, the epitome of big and booming New York dining. Is it worth the hefty price tag? Perhaps, perhaps not. However, if you’re going all out for a special occasion or feeling rich, it is a must-have. Other highlights include: a braised rabbit dish that was so succulent, juicy and hearty, everyone had the table was ogling it enviously; the unexpectedly well-executed chicken pot pie, served in a thick and flaky pastry with plenty of creamy sauce, vegetables, and tender chunks of chicken; a seasonal beef cheeks special, braised to the point where knives are unnecessary and presented atop a creamy and smooth mascarpone polenta. Unfortunately, the New York strip steak is mediocre, overly charred and lacking in enough ‘meaty’ flavor. The salmon filet, while well-cooked and elegantly presented, was equally boring, served with bland lentils and kale.
The desserts were arguably the high point in the meal. Dressed-up versions of the American classics you’d find in your grandmother’s kitchen, they were nostalgic and comforting. The apple crisp is big enough to serve two, topped with a generous helping of sweet crumble and stuffed with thick slices of cinnamon-spiced apples. The pistachio cake was incredibly moist, sweet but not too sweet, and nutty. For chocolate lovers, the chocolate cake is a must-order, served so thick and rich that it was more like fudge than cake.
The Waverly Inn was surprisingly warm, congenial, and comfortable, despite being one of the ‘clubbiest’ dining spots in the city. The service deserves a gold star for being friendly and helpful; even the reservations woman was accommodating and easy to work with. The food is arguably over-priced, yet generally very delicious and appropriately decadent. The atmosphere is unbeatable: cozy, intimate, and ‘special.’ This is no cookie-cutter dining experience.
Perfect For: blowing oodles of cash, big spendahs, special occasions, Sunday Night supper, celebrity spotting, cozying up when the weather turns cold, anniversary dates, getting fancy