BY DONNA MINKOWITZ | A “restaurant” originally meant a place where you go to be restored. The first use of the term was in 18th century Paris, where a man named Boulanger had a shop selling healthful broths (restaurants) that were supposed to restore a person’s sense of ease and vitality.
Few moderately-priced eateries make you feel anything like that these days. Particularly in Manhattan, places with delicious food at affordable prices tend to be noisy, cramped, and tense-making, with backless chairs to discourage sitting for long. Servers are typically rushed, indifferent, or, in the horrible new fashion promulgated by bad-boy chefs, actually surly.
Nourish Kitchen + Table, on Greenwich Avenue and 12th Street in the Village, is different. It looks like a coffee bar from the outside, so I went in one day just praying the coffee would be hot and I would find a not-too-dirty place to sit. Inside, I suddenly felt like I could breathe. My shoulders relaxed. What was it? First, the man and woman at the counter seemed to make me want to feel good, not hurried or resentful. A friendly server answered all my questions about the food, for yes, that was the second thing — there was real food, a dozen radiant dishes laid out on the counter.
There was a fruit salad that had been prepared with beauty and imagination, with chunks of very-fresh-looking pineapple, strips of coconut, and mint leaves, along with kiwi and banana. It had obviously been made that morning. There was a piece of carrot bread that appeared to actually be healthy, because the ingredients listed on a little card next to it included carrot, olive oil, and tahini, but not sugar, and the counterwoman said that it had none. It tasted extraordinary — there were bits of ginger in it.
I sat in the back. There were gorgeous dried flowers on each table, with a giant vase of lilies on the counter of the open kitchen that framed the room. There was a basket of dark blue cloth napkins wrapped around table settings on each beautiful wooden table, an entire wall made of black slate, exquisite framed drawings on the walls, food magazines you could read. There was delightful pottery you could touch (and buy). There was a basket of apples so tempting it made you want to grab one, and Billie Holiday was playing. On the wall, also for sale, was a black apron with metal studs that I have to say, as a butch home cook, I really appreciated.
The place felt like home, if home was a place that was always charming and never got dirty. In the bathroom, there was fancy soap and hand cream from Murchison-Hume, and those amazing paper hand towels that masquerade as cloth because they are so firm and soft.
I told the staff I have an arm problem, so would they be willing to carry my (wonderfully-designed) coffee cup and plate to my seat? But of course. They made trips to get me everything I needed.
Blah blah blah, you’re saying — how was the rest of the food? Sadly, at dinner one night, most of the roasted pork loin ($7) was dry, though bits of it were meaty and delicious. I asked for mayo or ketchup to moisten it up, but there wasn’t any, and one of the evening servers (not quite as friendly as the morning staff) seemed annoyed by my request. She finally provided some sriracha.
But along with the pork I had ordered what turned out to be the best cauliflower dish I have ever eaten — roasted and topped with a tahini sauce and capers, fried onions, and currants. I also got — as a plate with the pork and two sides ($17) — a lovely, unusual kale salad that tasted creamy (from sesame oil?) and came with watermelon radish, slivered almonds, a little bit of plum, and white sesame seeds.
Maybe the best thing I ate at Nourish was a small sandwich ($7) of “thyme-roasted mushrooms, free range turkey, fontina, and date aioli” (!), which I ate while fondling a gray fake-fur throw that looked like something a sexy barbarian would have given Daenerys Targaryen.
Alongside, I had a mini hard-boiled egg sandwich on a brioche roll ($3), with pickled red onions, arugula, and “sriracha aioli,” that would have been delicious if only it had some salt. (There was no taste of sriracha in the aioli smear on top.) Another day, a beet salad was okay but boring, decked out with goat cheese, lettuce, and a solitary walnut ($5). But I drank a “house refresher” made with sparkling water and housemade “tea-rose syrup” ($3.50) that was both thrilling and pretty damn healthy.
The “signature roast chicken” ($7) was moist and homey but not as exciting as the description (“Moroccan spice blend, lemon”) had led me to believe. Still, a fruit salad at the same meal (a large portion for $5) was the best fruit salad I’ve ever eaten, with a voluptuous texture and flavor that had somehow been produced from apples, pears, many pomegranate seeds, and “rosemary honey.”
In a phone interview, Nourish’s “brand director” Allegra Ben-Amotz (for alas, they do have a brand director) told me that the counterwoman had actually been wrong about the carrot bread I ate on my first visit. In fact, it had sugar, albeit the organic kind — as do many of their sweet items. (The little ingredient cards next to each item, it turns out, are not exhaustive.) “All of our recipes are developed with balance in mind,” she said.
The shop’s owner, Marissa Lippert, is a registered dietitian who, Ben-Amotz said, develops all the recipes in concert with the chefs. “We try to balance ingredients we’re excited about, eating with the seasons, making food that’s beautiful to look at and also healthy.”
What went a longer way for me was the reassurance that all the meats are antibiotic and hormone-free and the beef is grass-fed, which is awesome given how low the prices for proteins are and how very nourishing it feels to sit in this space. There is sometimes a longish wait at the counter, but I’d have to say it’s worth it. Have the strong iced coffee available even in winter, or choose from a few well-chosen beers and wines by the glass.
Nourish + Kitchen Table (nourishkit