Elazar Sontag is Bon Appétit’s restaurant editor, but he eats at home too, sometimes. Here, he shares one of his new favorite cookbooks, which—surprise, surprise—comes from one of his favorite restaurants.
So much of what I love about Via Carota, an Italian restaurant tucked into New York’s Greenwich Village, is how unlike my home it is. There are shiny pomegranates and chestnuts in brass bowls at the bar. Some fresh almonds or leafy mandarins depending on the season; a cast-iron bucket of just-picked garlic. The wooden tables are old and weathered. It feels like home. Just not my home.
This platonic ideal of a neighborhood restaurant has been reliably packed since it opened in 2014. The food here, the work of owners and partners Rita Sodi and Jody Williams, is the best of old-world Italian cooking, but it’s also precise and delicate. As I’m tucking into a whole branzino baked in salt, I do not think to myself, “I could totally make this.”
So, when I heard Via Carota was coming out with a cookbook, I squealed with excitement, but I was also a little skeptical. How much of the magic that makes this restaurant so special, so quintessentially New York, could be distilled into a cookbook? Quite a lot, it turns out.
Via Carota: A Celebration of Seasonal Cooking from the Beloved Greenwich Village Restaurant boasts the same simple elegance that defines the restaurant itself. There’s no extravagant food styling—dishes are shot plain and beautiful, more point of reference than conceptual art. Those honest depictions guided me as I cooked my way through the book and realized that Williams and Sodi, with co-writer Anna Kovel, had imbued its pages with the same magic that floats through their restaurant. My food looked like their food.
My first goal was to hunt down robiola—a mild cheese of sheep’s and cow’s milk—spurred by a deep desire to recreate the Insalata Di Piselli. The salad of leafy greens, sweet peas, and prosciutto is only on the menu at Via Carota in the spring when peas are in season but I, for one, felt comfortable boiling frozen peas, closing my eyes, and imagining. That robiola was to be mixed into the Via Carota Vinaigrette, a sherry vinegar and shallot-heavy revelation that acts as a sort of mother sauce in the restaurant’s kitchen. The closest I ever got to finding robiola in my neighborhood was a mild blue cheese, which is to say, not very close.
Nevertheless, my bastardized Robiola Vinaigrette is still mind-bendingly good, and goes on pretty much every salad I make. A prosciutto-less version of it landed on the kosher-ish Thanksgiving table of my boyfriend’s family. I keep a jar of the original vinaigrette in my fridge at all times.
While there’s plenty of meat in this book, the stars here are vegetables, as is the case at Via Carota. Carrots, which have about as much flavor as plywood during New York winters, take an oven bath in a sugar water solution. When soft, they’re toasted, then laid in a pool of spiced yogurt. Whether I’m making this recipe or not, my carrots now always start their journey in a little sugar water.