This $30 Burger (That's Really a Steak) Is Finally Turning Me Into a Via Carota Fan
Plus, notes on the chopped steaks at Le Rock and Gallaghers
This is a column about a very delicious steak — a modestly portioned cut of beef that’s ideal for summertime eating — but first, I need to get something out of my system: I probably don’t adore Via Carota as much as you do. Sorry.
That’s more of a problem for me than it is for you. A legal requirement for writing about food in New York City is that you’re supposed to love Via Carota — sort of like how good Boston Catholics are supposed to love the Red Sox.
My former Eater colleague Robert Sietsema awarded four glowing stars. Pete Wells of the NYT ranked it fourth on his list of the city’s 100 best restaurants, adding that a “liberal dose of fantasy” is part of the secret. The New Yorker’s Hannah Goldfield even dedicated an entire column to discussing how the rustic trattoria is a favorite of food writers, cookbook authors, and well-known chefs. Jeff Gordinier, then of Esquire,“estimates that he’s sent hundreds of people to Via Carota, including Rene Redzepi,” Goldfield wrote, adding that if there were a comparable restaurant in Copenhagen, the Noma chef would dine there “once a week,” per Gordinier.
Via Carota, indeed, is a nice place to eat. I’ve never had anything less than very good meals at this West Village mainstay. The cacio e pepe is firm and buttery. The mood lighting imparts the Florentine villa of a room with a nice warm glow. Things glow even more after an $18 negroni or two. And the insalata verde seems to defy the Controlling Law of Social Media Filters; it’s somehow even more beautiful in real life than on Instagram — the seafoam-hued lettuces come stacked as high as domes of kakigori.
Yet unlike some of my peers, I’ve never really felt a Taylor Swiftian bond with Via Carota, a heart-on-your-sleeve passion I prefer to share with the more rigidly Tuscan and distinctive I Sodi — run by the same owners, the talented Rita Sodi and Jody Williams. I’m actually quite defensive about I Sodi. If you told me you merely appreciated that gem of a venue, I’d send you my Eater review, with annotations, and then I’d follow up with rambling, amari-fueled DMs at 3:13 a.m.
Then again, maybe I’m finally starting to come around to the vegetable-forward Via Carota. And it’s all because I finally tried the steak.
“Svizzerina” is the dish’s formal name. It’s a chopped steak, which means it’s a bit like a burger without a bun, but that comparison doesn’t quite do justice to this red meat masterpiece.
Via Carota’s kitchen chops, by hand, about eight-ounces of well-marbled New York strip — with a “generous fat cap,” Sodi and Williams tell me via email. The cooks then form it into a patty, give it a nice brown sear on the piastria (a griddle), and serve it with a few cloves of roasted garlic and a sprinkling of rosemary confit.
It sits on a white place with nothing else, as if it’s pretending to be an expensive a la carte ribeye.
A bartender tells me that the svizzerina is closer to a seared beef tartare than an actual burger, and in a way he’s right. The warm char is just a few millimeters deep, quickly giving way to a cool and crimson interior.
But I like to think the better (if more absurd) metaphor is a slice of cake hiding inside a steak costume. The exterior is firm, salty, and beefy, but then the extremely rare core flakes apart with all the creaminess of underbaked angel food. There is no need to wield a knife or overwork your jaw. You simply gobble up the juicy knobs of meat like you’re inhaling dessert at a Saturday afternoon birthday party.
Williams and Sodi introduced the dish in 2014, when Via Carota opened. But surely it has evolved since then? “The dish has not changed in Rita’s lifetime…so [it] certainly hasn’t changed since 2014,” Williams tells me, as if to suggest the team here didn’t so much create the dish as act as guardians of generational culinary knowledge.
Since it doesn’t come with pommes frites — there are no fries at Via Carota, and you couldn’t pay me money to ask Williams or Sodi why there are not — I paired it with a plate of stracchi pasta, sheets of soft noodles painted in verdant pesto Genovese.
So yeah, I guess Via Carota is growing on me!