24 Carota Gold
"We knew it would be inspired by Rita's home in the hills outside Florence," Williams says. "That home was on Via Carota, hence the name of the restaurant."
And when you step into the warm, cozy West Village restaurant, you may forget for a moment that you're in NYC: Save for the round, silver-topped tables and long marble bar, it feels like you're eating in someone's kitchen. A rustic wooden cabinet holds stacks of plates, and bowls of fruit and piles of bread are scattered about, not messily, but just in a way that makes you instantly comfortable.
Clockwise, from top: Wood cabinet of plates, octopus and chocolate cake
That's exactly how Williams and Sodi wanted it: "It's really an homage to all things Italian, but in a casual way," Williams says.
The menu achieves this, in that there are a lot of little things to pick and choose from—all unfussy, peasant-y Italian at its best. Start with crostini bathed in creamy, milky stracchino cheese and sundried tomatoes plumped up in oil ($8). A diner could build an entire meal from the 15 or so vegetable dishes ($10 each)—according to Williams, Via Carota loosely translates to "Carrot Street," and the duo put emphasis on that section for a reason.
"People are always saying that they love the vegetable sides at our restaurants, so we devoted about 50 percent of this menu to them," Williams laughs.
You might see chilled marinated leeks sprinkled with bottarga shavings, or slabs of salsify dressed in brown butter and draped with a few sprigs of charred thyme. Stewy braised lentils are topped with thick, salty rounds of cotechino (pork sausage)—"verdure" doesn't necessarily mean "vegetarian" here.
The rest of the menu (pastas, meat, fish) follows in easygoing fashion: Juicy salt-roasted shrimp ($16) are served heads-on alongside lemon wedges and nothing else. An otherworldly lemon risotto ($16) was first offered as a special but has been placed permanently on the menu due to clamoring adoration: Grains of carnaroli rice are cooked with water, olive oil, Parmesan, a smattering of basil leaves and the juice and zest of Meyer lemon—and not a drop of butter. The finished dish sparkles with unadulterated lemony flavor.
"Cooking with water has a purifying effect," Williams explains. "When you really want to underscore and highlight one ingredient, water is a smart choice."
End your meal with a crackly-topped flourless chocolate cake ($8) and a glass of amaro. There are over 50 of the Italian digestifs on offer, for a reason.
"Having a little amaro gives you something to do at the end of the meal—it prolongs the joy," Williams says. "It creates a little moment of community. You can linger and hang out with your friends."
As if she has to dangle the carrot—we'll stay as long as we possibly can.
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