BITE OF THE BIG APPLE
NAMED FOR A STREET IN A SMALL TUSCAN VILLAGE, VIA CAROTA IS THE NEW YORK RESTAURANT CAUSING EVERYONE TO LOSE THEIR MINDS.
hen you bite into it, you are going to start crying and think you need to call me and thank me, but don’t, because you don’t want to interrupt the experience.”
It is not often that you get a food recommendation that predicts you ending in tears, but such is the passion elicited by Via Carota. The Italian restaurant in New York’s West Village was not only the top suggestion made to WISH before a recent trip to the Big Apple but was echoed by every person consulted, here and there, from Australian chefs to foodies to Broadway producers. It seems the neighbourhood restaurant on Grove Street makes a lasting impression.
Opened by much-loved “downtown” chefs Jody Williams and Rita Sodi in 2014, Via Carota was the first restaurant for the pair (who are also partners outside the kitchen). Williams already had her casual French bistro Buvette down the road and Sodi had her Italian establishment I Sodi. “Via Carota is a homage to Rita’s home,” Williams tells WISH: Sodi grew up in a villa on Via Carota in a small village in Tuscany. “We wanted to create a place where we could cook together the foods that we love, iconic Tuscan dishes. We used architectural elements and furnishings from Rita’s original villa on Via Carota. The design and menu reflects what we love most of all about the Tuscan lifestyle and cuisine.”
The result is simple, classic Italian food influenced by seasons and “heavy on the vegetables”, according to Sodi. The space is relaxed and rustic, with wooden floors, bare brick walls, a long marble bar and waiters in crisp white shirts and aprons. It is packed with locals and visitors and there is often a queue out the front (it does not take bookings, so get there early or late for dinner if you want to be able to walk in straight away).
The food does come close to bringing WISH to tears, from the fried green olives to the speciality dish Via Svizzerina (a grass-fed steak chopped up and made into a burger that melts in your mouth) to the chocolate orange cannoli. The simple green salad dressed with a sherry vinaigrette is even worth noting.
“Each season brings a favourite dish,” says Williams when asked about their most memorable creations. “Right now it is fried squash blossoms, fritto misto with soft-shell crabs and pumpkin ravioli. And of course there is truffle season.” Both Sodi and Williams are selftaught. Sodi in particular was a latecomer to the profession: she studied art in Florence and worked in the fashion industry for 30 years before opening her own Italian restaurant in New York, out of disappointment at what was on offer. Williams studied Italian cuisine for five years in Italy after she graduated from university and then came back to work in food in New York. They met in 2008 when Williams went for dinner at I Sodi.
As for balancing their professional and personal relationships, Sodi and Williams admit there is no division. “We don’t really have an outside life, just a restaurant life,” Sodi says. “Being passionate about food and wine, we travel for inspiration and rest. We have a lot of practice supporting each other with our neighbouring places Buvette and I Sodi.” It obviously works as the pair are preparing to open a second restaurant together, Pisellino (sweet pea) up the road. It will be an all-day casual Italian café where people can drop in for coffee, sweet pastries, breakfast and lunch right up to cocktails at night.
As for their New York food recommendations, they both start with the markets. “Always Union Square Green Market as well as walking tours and sidewalk cafes,” says Williams. “We don’t get out as much as we would like but there are so many inspiring places to eat.”