Try to make a reservation at the popular Waverly Inn and Garden and you may find its telephone number hard to come by. The unlisted restaurant hides behind an understated facade in a residential city block in the Greenwich Village. Its popularity arguably a result of being out of reach for the unpopular crowd. While mere mortals may have a hard time getting in; movie stars, socialites and billionaires have tables guaranteed. Once inside, celebrity spotting is assured. No wonder the paparazzi line up every night outside the door, come rain or shine. For obvious reasons, cameras are not welcomed inside; hence the illustrated reenactment that follows.
Located under an apartment building, the restaurant is accessible only through a discreet door, a few steps below ground level. Right next to it, a metal plaque proudly announces “The Waverly Inn. Since 1920”. There are 3 sections inside; the bar, the main dining room and a covered garden (nicknamed “Siberia” for seating the less glamorous clientele, according to the New York Times,). The atmosphere is of a bohemian 1920s private club with hints of classic American taverns. Dimly lit by wall sconces under low, beamed ceilings. Except for the airy, vine covered garden, the somewhat claustrophobic space seems to come from a Harry Potter passage. All walls covered with turn of the century portraits–or at least made to look that way.
Hobnobbing with People Magazine’s A/B lists is a mix of preppy New Yorkers and 50-somethings sporting tall lacquered hairdos, oversized pearl necklaces and their best eveningwear.
The sharp wait staff buzzes around the dim dining room, as if trained to seeing in the dark –and being oblivious to the glaring celebrities.
The words “Preview Menu” are printed in capital letters above and below the single-page sheet. Technically, The Waverly is not officially open. A clever excuse for creating an extra sense of exclusivity. But the allure seems to fade away when it comes to the food. Nothing sounds exceptional on the menu, except maybe the prices. Like a mac-and-cheese for sixty-five dollars. One I undoubtedly had to try.
In one word, average. Sloppy presentations, uninspiring flavors, little inventiveness. Far from fine dining. One of the appetizers recommended was an Heirloom tomato salad that, although described eloquently by our waiter, is plain and carelessly presented.
The Grilled salmon toro with wild mushrooms is a better choice. Although slightly charred, it is tender and juicy. Mushrooms and greens are somewhat soggy though, laid on the plate with no ceremony.
Now for the $65 Mac-and-cheese. In all fairness, it is topped with fresh shaved black truffles. But not enough truffles if you ask me. I follow Thomas Keller’s school of thought that such prime ingredients should be served with no economy for their true appreciation. At The Waverly, the table-shaved truffle is no match for the pungent mac-and-cheese. It’s flavor disappearing almost completely. All in all this is a tasty dish, just not worth sixty-five dollars.
I also tried the Cedar plank brook trout with roasted carrots. Another miss. Points for the presentation but overall it was dry and uninteresting.
For dessert, the Vermont Chevre Cheesecake Berry coulis is good but nothing more than ordinary. Despite the prominent goat cheese taste, the dessert lacked complexity of flavors.
In one of the most alluring restaurants in NY, the food is far from glamorous. But if you don’t mind paying high-prices for ordinary American food, The Waverly is definitely worth going once, for the experience. Even for the celebrity-immune, you will still enjoy the authentic old-school New York ambiance. That if you know someone that knows someone that can get you in, of course.
The Waverly Inn and Garden is at 16 Bank St.