Just like its catch-word cousins “artisanal” and “local”, the term “farm-to-table” is everywhere describing every restaurant worth going to. So what’s next? How much closer can you get to your food? Bell Book and Candle answers that question, and by doing so creates a new title that very few can claim: the ‘roof-to-table’ restaurant. Most of the produce at this one-year-old West Village restaurant isn’t driven in by a gas-guzzling truck from a farm upstate, or even further. It’s simply brought down six-stories by a pulley system. The roof-top garden grows over a thousand plants including tomatoes, lettuce, melons, squash, and other fruits and veggies, hydroponically. The vertical, contained water system doesn’t need soil and actually allows the vegetables to grow quicker.
I tasted the fruits (and vegetables) of the hydroponic labor in the deliciously refreshing Rooftop Mixed Greens with Old-School Thousand Island (only $6). The salad was a pretty good size, and the different lettuces really did taste like they were just picked. The bright and crisp greens showed no signs of softness,wilting, or fading. The dressing was really good too, and I liked how it wasn’t mixed in with all of the leaves, just the smaller ones on the top.
For my main course, I got the “Gin & Tonic” Wild Salmon with carmelized cauliflower. The rooftop cauliflower was perfectly undercooked with just the right amount of crunch. On top of the salmon were the cutest little chervil (similar to parsley) greens I’ve ever seen. I was so amazed at how vibrant they looked and tasted. The salmon itself was pretty good except for being a little underdone in the center, even though I had asked for it cooked on the well side of medium-well. The fish came with a beurre blanc sauce made with a gin reduction and shallots that were perfect for scooping up with the amazing dinner rolls, which were like a less sweet and more texturally dense croissant.
Besides the overall great meal, the atmosphere and decor of Bell Book and Candle are worth noting, too. The slightly below street level space almost takes on a clubby feel, but in a very fresh and modern way. The smooth dark wood of the tables, chairs, and floors is contrasted with the cavernous brick walls and curved ceiling. Pops of color and a variety of light fixtures give this eclectic space a cozy feel. Music adds to the familial vibe, with songs that seemed to be playing right from my iTunes. There was a bunch of rock from the 60’s and 70’s, with songs playing by Crosby Stills and Nash, The Byrds, Neil Young, Carly Simon, Grateful Dead, and Creedence Clearwater. It was some of the best restaurant music I’ve ever heard, and it was played at just the right decibel: low enough so it didn’t interfere with conversation, but high enough so if you stopped talking and concentrated on the music, you could recognize the song.
As I left, struggling past the crowds in the hall and by the bar and entrance, I realized that many others were taking advantage of all the great things that a night at Bell Book and Candle has to offer, from the fresh, not-too-expensive food, nice decor, and rockin’ music that keeps this place hopping.