WHILE THE TREND of naming a restaurant after its address keeps proprietors safe from name-related lawsuits, it certainly doesn’t show much imagination. Neither does the interior of Eighty Four on Seventh, a small European- American-style bistro on a busy corner in the West Village. With placid, white-washed and unadorned brick walls, standard dark wooden tables and stiff place settings, the restaurant feels too stuffy for casual dining. The large open windows help, but unfortunately the traffic noise (and smells) from bustling Seventh Avenue make eating semi-alfresco a challenge.
Luckily, where the setting fails, chef Aaron Fitterman offers a menu worth going out for. The former Public chef has pushed basic, American-style dishes to the forefront and given them a European- Mediterranean kick with the addition of items like spaetzel, lemon risotto and cashew tabouleh.
One night I absolutely loved the squash blossom appetizer ($10). Stuffed with fluffy, herbed goat cheese, the delicate flowers get flash-fried, lending a light crunch to the otherwise soft dish. We paired that with a glass of Setzer’s crisp Gruner Veltiner ($9). The starter menu also offers tender sweetbreads ($13), gently crisped with a bacon dressing that, given the warmth of the season, proved too heavy for a humid night. Light and buttery diver scallops ($13) fared better that evening, but the corned Kobe beef tongue ($10) was flavorless and coated in an unnecessary slab of Gruyere.
Equally inventive was the cocktail menu, stocked with tipples including the citrus, Chambord and Sauvignon Blancfilled Punch Like a Girl ($14) or the basil, blackberry, sparkling wine and gin combo of the Purple Baize ($14). But both came out so candy sweet, it tasted like drinking a liquid Jolly Rancher. Part of this could be because on the nights I visited, the waitress also made the drinks. Unless you are of the appletini crowd, stick with the well-curated wine list, which includes decent bottles like the dry, plummy Chateau Pineraie Malbec ($42), the light-bodied Bibi Graetz Casamatta ($28) and a rotating selection of wines by the glass.
As for the entrée selections, this is where Fitterman’s true creativity shines through. Take, for example, the unbelievably airy gnocchi ($18) that he makes with fennel. The soft pillows melt on the tongue, and, mixed with delicately pickled chanterelles, a subtle mint and pistachio pesto and fresh ricotta, this dish bordered on perfect. While it’s hard to follow something like that, that night I also enjoyed a juicy beer-brined brick chicken ($20). Often this bird gets a bad rap as a boring or unimaginative dish, but when it’s done right, it stands out. With a taut, browned skin that crackled, moist, tender meat and a layer of tangy smashed potatoes and Swiss chard, this entrée proved one of those exceptions. On another night I was equally impressed with the spice-crusted pork loin ($23), which came with a hearty sprinkle of poppy seed spaetzel and a sticky, sweet apricot relish. While the relish tasted too saccharine on its own, with the supple pork it paired just right.
The sparse dessert menu, however, didn’t inspire, and after completing a good meal we didn’t really want much else. Still, I settled on the affogao ($9), a traditional Italian dessert (it means "drowned") comprised of vanilla ice cream submerged in hot espresso. It was forgettable.
Eighty Four on Seventh might not look like much from the outside (and appears completely dull next to Sushi Samba across the street), but Fitterman has a real thing going on inside. Grab a table while you can; once this address is on everyone’s lips, it’s not likely to be empty any time soon.
>> EIGHTY FOUR ON SEVENTH 84 7th Ave. (at Barrow St.), 84nyc.com.