by Daniel Cappello
Once you fight your way through the bustling lobby, past the wall of diner-like booths lining the bar, then into the restaurant, you might think you’ve stumbled upon the New York sister restaurant of, say, Pierre Jancou’s Vivant Table in Paris. There’s an airy romance about the place, set into effect by an overwhelmingly calm, sepia-tinged patina cast everywhere, as if the lush green banquet seating, fresh plants in porcelain potting, Argentinean floral tiles, and warm woods are being scanned through a Valencia filter in our eyes. Or you might think you’ve stumbled into the back garden area of the Waverly Inn and Garden, over in the West Village. It makes sense: hotelier Sean MacPherson, who renovated the Waverly Inn with Graydon Carter, is the mastermind behind this latest “neighborhood café,” Margaux, in the heart of Greenwich Village.
MacPherson, who is also responsible for the recent multi-million-dollar renovation of the Marlton Hotel, which houses Margaux, has said he was inspired to transform the former Marlton House (a onetime abode for great minds of the Beat Generation) into the sort of hotel on a Parisian side street that might be found in Tender is the Night. Thus explains the Parisian-influenced “baby grand” hotel that alludes to both postwar Paris and glory-days Greenwich Village in the details. MacPherson, like Jancou in Paris, is a modern master of the espace retrouvé—reclaiming old spaces on shadowy streets or corners and revitalizing them with crushingly nostalgic splash. (MacPherson is poised to help put West 8th Street, the den of Doc Martens–type shoe stores, back on the map, much like Jancou turned the rue des Petites-Écuries into a hip Parisian destination.) At Margaux, there’s no need to Instagram anything; life here is already some dreamy vision of the past.
Chefs Michael Reardon and Jeremy Blutstein boast dishes with “sunny, dynamic flavors,” and the food certainly does call to mind rather far-flung coastlines. Starters like the olives with citrus, chili, and preserved lemon transport you immediately to the Italian seashore; the country bread—well worth the four dollars (bread, dear New Yorkers, is disappearing from tables faster than complimentary in-flight beverage service)—bathes beautifully in Sicilian olive oil, Kriemhild Dairy butter, and sea salt.
With an ethos of seasonality and healthful ingredients, the menu can change daily, which might be cause for disappointment among return customers wanting more, but which is meant to offer the highest-quality food and drink “without pretense,” as the restaurant puts it. To be sure, pretense has been expunged from the menu, and also, in part, from the service. Don’t dare to deliberate too long on dishes (or you might lose your turn), and don’t banter about the earthiness or minerality of possible wines. Though the food is partly California-inspired, this is not wine country: even if you say no to Rieslings, one might be served anyway, and even though you thought you wouldn’t like that (admittedly agreeable) chilled Alsatian Pinot Noir with your (unmistakably delectable) Arctic char with English peas, black trumpets, and horseradish, you might have to suck it up anyway.
The burger surely beckons with English cheddar and pickled jalapeños (the pickled treats to start, it must be mentioned, are so good they’re apt to induce future pregnancy-grade cravings), but it’s “just a burger,” or so we’re told. More seasonal might be the olive oil–poached dayboat cod with wax beans, fingerling potatoes, and Taggiasche olives, or the rotisserie chicken with Urfa biber (a dried Turkish chili pepper), smashed sweet potato, and harissa. Turkish spices, curried yogurts, and kale salad with chilies and spicy pumpkin seeds might be more in keeping with the menu’s mission, but the marriage of Italy and American East Coast in the squid-ink bucatini with Maine lobster and Calabrian chili is so ambrosial, you might just have to Instagram it.