In certain red-hot hubs of New York City, good food ranks pretty low among restaurant priorities—the loudest music, the stiffest drinks and the hottest chicks play more critical roles in keeping crowds pouring in. It’s been that way for a while now amid the pheromone factories clustered around Seventh Avenue and 10th Street—from the margarita madness at Diablo Royale on one end to the wild Aussie-bar scrum at Kingswood on the other.
Rosemary’s, the splashy new venue that recently opened in the middle of it all, has quickly become the new king of that strip. Carlos Suarez, the impresario behind Bobo just across the avenue, has packed the place with young men and women more on the prowl for each other than for anything good to eat. They’re at the bar furtively flirting around boards of salumi and flutes of prosecco, or fighting their way toward the host clutching the wait list (no reservations are accepted).
The restaurant, like its townhouse sibling, is a beautiful madhouse, in barnyard drag, with dangling plants and rustic beams strung with twinkling lights that lend a picnic vibe to the reclaimed-wood tables clustered beneath them. The place might look like just another incendiary West Village hang with a chef whose name you may not take care to remember, but that impression’s deceptive.
Rosemary’s, in fact, ought to be packed with food fanatics, here for the cooking and not what surrounds it. Wade Moises, who worked for Mario Batali at Babbo and Lupa, is the real deal, a talent to watch. He’s got lettuces, herbs and heirloom tomatoes plucked from a roof garden that’s not just ornamental. Top-shelf ingredients, both homegrown and brought in, help make even the most straightforward dishes leagues better than the clientele might demand.
While there are enough run-of-the-mill classics to keep the restaurant’s less adventuresome patrons happy—decent spaghetti pomodoro, a nicely grilled skirt steak with arugula salad—there’s far more to the menu. Sophisticated diners will find plenty to thrill them, starting with octopus “salami,” say—a chilled terrine with zingy giardiniera pickles—or house-cured pork capocollo (neck-meat ham) rubbed in potent dry chilies. Order a few of these shared snacks while you lean on a tall table near the bar, waiting for seats to open. There’s warm, spongy, house-made focaccia to go along with them, encrusted in sea salt and filled with pungent stracchino cheese, if you like. Tidy bowls of room-temperature vegetables—sweet-and-sour eggplant caponata with pine nuts and raisins, pecorino-topped zucchini ribbons in a bright tomato-pulp dressing—round out the excellent antipasto selection.
Once you’ve settled in for dinner, you won’t need much more than a light celery salad—the shaved root and heart slicked in a beautifully punchy Caesar dressing—before the real banquet begins. The sparely sauced pastas are a bit too generously portioned for the start of a meal. Pair them instead with one of the large-format feasts that are the restaurant’s real showstoppers—big platters for two that in fact serve three or four. House-made cavatelli with sweet peas, whipped ricotta and mint makes a nice mellow foil for the chef’s carne misti, a mountain of espresso-glazed pork ribs, smoky lamb shoulder and super-succulent whey-brined poussin (soaked in the liqueur left over after cooking up fresh mozzarella). The restaurant’s enormous acqua pazza seafood stew—piled high with mussels, clams, squid, shrimp and fish—ought to come with a side of the preserved-lemon linguine, a terrific tangy-sweet match for the stew’s intense “crazy water” broth (the literal translation), fragrant with white wine, fennel, tomato and garlic.
While these festive family-style entrées fit the party vibe, desserts—bane of so many Italian restaurants—are far more low-key. A moist olive oil cake with blueberries and whipped cream delivers satisfaction but little excitement. It’s the sort of finale you might expect from a restaurant where the food takes a backseat to the hot scene. Rosemary’s may look that part, but with an ambitious chef in the kitchen and a paradigm-shifting garden upstairs, there’s clearly much more at play.
Eat this: Octopus “salami,” house-cured capocollo, eggplant caponata, focaccia with stracchino, cavatelli with peas and ricotta, carne misti, acqua pazza
Drink this: Without a full liquor license, the cocktails are limited to beer and wine mixes. Try the Tempestoso, a refreshing, well-balanced combo of Carpano vermouth, lime juice and ginger beer ($13). The short beer selection includes some unusual finds, such as a robust pink peppercorn IPA from Italian microbrewery Almond ’22 ($15). Every bottle on the budget-conscious wine list is $40. A light and lively rosé from Vento winery Fratta Pasini is a fine match for the restaurant’s large-format fare.
Sit here: The long communal table in the middle of the room is the best spot for soaking up the restaurant’s party atmosphere. In decent weather the wall of windows are flung open to 10th Street, making the cozier tables there almost alfresco.
Conversation piece: Rosemary’s, named for Carlos Suarez’s mother, was styled by Dekar Design, which also did Bobo. The company used salvaged materials to outfit the place, building mirror frames from vintage farm equipment, constructing tabletops from the floors of an old bicycle factory and rescuing lanterns from a municipal building in France.
By Jay Cheshes