Houseman restaurant, located downtown on Grenich street in the West Village is a not-so-hidden gem. Houseman, which draws its name and inspiration from the Swedish word “husmanskost”, which means everyday food does just that and more. Everything about this place screams of attention to detail, from the design and layout of the dining room to the food coming out of the kitchen. Everything has been thought about, analyzed and executed near flawlessly. Service is attentive but not intrusive, the wines thoughtfully sourced and approachable and the cocktails are all well balanced and executed beautifully. The chef/owner Ned Baldwin first started Houseman a few years ago at his home on the North Fork of Long Island, an idea that started out as cooking for large groups of friends and family on the beach, pulling fish out of the sea himself in the mornings and serving them whole to his guests in the evenings. This eventually grew until he found a brick and mortar location in the city, which opened in the Spring of 2015 and has since been receiving plenty of attention, most notably Pete Wells from the New York Times who gave them two stars as well as a glowing review.
Once we were sat, we were informed by our server of specials (which I fail to remember what they were now as it’s been a few weeks. Smoked quail for two maybe?), she took our drink order and walked off to take care of her other tables. We came on a Tuesday early evening and there already was a buzz about the dining room, for a place that is really inconvenient to get to Houseman does not appear to have an issue filling its seats. We took this opportunity to glance over the menu at our options, something which I love about Houseman is how interesting and thoughtful the menu is. The menu itself is fun and easy to read, dishes like Squid and sofrito with red calypso beans a breadcrumbs or the lamb sausage (made in house, obviously) with yogurt, watercress cucumber radish and za’atar all show that this menu is well thought out and the food is taken seriously, we decided to order just about everything off the menu.
Compliments of the Chef, salmon and greens
We started with the squid with sofrito and breadcrumbs, it was presented to us in a shallow bowl and what immediately hit us was the aroma. Freshly toasted bread, that briny sweetness of the calamari and a wave of fresh herbs. Visually it was simple and beautiful, no fuss or flare, just exactly what you want to see in the bottom of a bowl. The beans were pillowy and soft inside with a bit of snap, which to me means everything. I cannot recall how many times I’ve been disappointed by a simple bean that has been obliterated until it is a graying pulp, these were not the case. Perfectly seasoned and combined with the gentle chew of the calamari and the butter fried croutons rounded off by the sweet stickiness of gently simmered tomatoes left me aggressively spooning more and more onto my plate before my companions could help themselves to more.
Beets, cream, cilantro, chili, seeds, lime ~ $15
Next up was the charred broccoli, toasted sesame seeds and Cicerchie beans (a relative to the chickpea, and upon a bit more research, also poisonous if over consumed. How fun!) with some perfectly charred sourdough that was generously rubbed in oil and sea salt. Again a beautifully simple dish executed extremely well. The beans had been pureed and reminded me of hummus, but much richer. A bold streak of olive oil and salt immediately ran across my tongue which was just as quickly balanced out by the creamy richness of the cicerchie. The broccoli adding a bit of char and a pleasing drizzle of fresh lemon juice leaving my palate feeling clean and refreshed. If only we had had more bread to finish it off but alas our server was preoccupied as the room was now at full capacity, we only half begrudgingly spooned it into our mouths leaving the bowl spotless.
Next up was the house cured Arctic Char with cucumber and herbs. The char was buttery smooth and cured only very lightly, leaving only trace amounts of the salt and sugar that it was cured in. The herbs, chives, chervil and watercress adding more of a clean feeling as we munched, although this dish left me wanting a bit more texture, it was nonetheless beautiful and delicious.
Swordfish, sweet and sour eggplant – $28
As our main showed up around this time, Houseman asks that you order everything at once and that it will come out to you as its ready, a format that once again enforces that the kitchen has control but most importantly that it works. We didn’t feel rushed, or pushed to eat faster, everything was timed perfectly, which is a testament to them to be able to deliver a quality service like this with a full house. Our entrée was the Swordfish with sweet and sour eggplant. Another item I am wary to order when I am out as I’ve had it done poorly countless times, this was different. The swordfish was golden and crisp on the outside and required a knife to cut through, but the sweet and delicate interior was full of flavor and not dry at all, the eggplant adding a zip of sweet and sour and pulling out all the minerality of the swordfish, leaving a dish that was both rich and satisfying but none of that post meal regret. We left Houseman happy and full with a gentle buzz and a desire to come back again soon. I hear they are stating brunch soon and I am sure I’ll be one of the first few people to queue up and wait outside for them to open their doors.