Maybe it was my personal elation from securing employment or maybe it was the wonderful crew of friends who showed up to help me celebrate or maybe it was just Monument Lane’s infectious warmth, but whatever it was, I freaking adore this place. Monument Lane, a West Village newcomer on the same stretch of Greenwich Avenue as Bennie’s Burritos, Tea & Sympathy, and Lyon, is a marvelous addition to a neighborhood seemingly saturated by cozy ‘neighborhood-y’ establishments. Sure, it’s not a brilliant new idea, a bastion of nouveau gourmet techniques, or a foodie’s fantasyland, but does that really matter when the Anglo-American comfort food is executed well, the cocktails are classic and strong, and the general mood seems to fluctuate between pleasantly satiated and truly convivial?
The new tenant in a long-vacated spot on Greenwich Avenue in the West Village, Monument Lane has settled itself nicely into a misshapen and quirky corner space. The result of much interior design work is an angular room with more than a few nooks and crannies. At the entrance is a bar, crowded with people waiting for the rest of their parties to arrive before sitting down to dinner; it’s a transient bar crowd, not the sort that sits around for the sheer pleasure of it. This is probably for the best, considering the bartender seems to suffer from forgetfulness and an inability to prepare a cocktail in under 5 minutes. Several lucky diners get to reap an unsung benefit of a corner restaurant – plenty of window tables. Pressed up against the plate glass windows, these hot seats are ideal for watching the world go by, with a loved one, good friends, or perhaps just on your own. Further into the interior of the restaurant are tables for bigger groups – on a Saturday night, Monument Lane could accommodate at least two parties of eight and with those, the place is rollicking. Tucked mostly out of sight, away from the bar and away from the windows, is the best seat in the house – a wood-paneled booth surrounded by walls on three sides, over which towers a vintage Union Jack.
The kitchen delivers Anglo-American comfort food, dressed up to suit the palates of discerning New Yorkers. To begin, it’s hard to turn down the siren song of soft whole wheat pretzel bites and cheese dip, of fresh ricotta dusted with lemon, of hot and tart buttered radishes, and of a classic fisherman’s fried basket filled with greasy but not too greasy bits of fried clam bellies and fried fluke fingers. Each starter was lovely in it’s own right, but the string of them together had my group of eight friends remarking on what a great meal this was sure to be. Later in the meal, a stunning rendition of classic American meatloaf includes not just gravy, but bacon gravy – an unforgettable touch that transforms a pedestrian dish often overcooked, undercooked and slapped together into a sinfully rich carnivore’s delight. The lobster roll, while not the best in the city, tries hard to impress with a hot buttered ciabatta bun, not too much mayo, and a plentiful helping of sweet succulent lobster meat – although it’s not a Maine lobster roll, it’s still pretty difficult not to enjoy it. A New York strip steak is cooked tender and bloody pink, if you let the kitchen have it’s way, and paired with the sweet bite of cipollini onions. For vegetarians, the fried green tomatoes are a wonderfully light option – crispy and breaded on the outside yet cut open to expose the thick juicy bright green tomato slice within. Each of the entrees had that satisfying heartiness that makes comfort food so beloved and had my friends moaning in pleasure over their plates.
Yes, it’s true – I loved almost every bite of my Monument Lane meal and not because it was exquisite in the way that Gramercy Tavern or Gotham Bar & Grill or Eleven Madison Park are exquisite. Instead, I loved Monument Lane because it was so pleasantly plebian, so warm and so delicious. It was the food you want to eat when it’s cold outside, when you’re having a rough week, when you’re tired of oily delivery and, perhaps, the limitations of your own cooking. Sure, Monument Lane has it’s quirks – including a particularly surly waitress, the tortoise-slow bartender, a no-reservations for parties under 6 people policy, and an unwillingness to seat incomplete parties – yet, if you relax and enjoy what’s coming to you, the experience can be quite pleasant.
Perfect For: West Village natives, groups of 6 to 8 friends looking to celebrate, Anglophiles, comfort food fanatics, first dates, girls night out, a casual dinner with mom and dad