In light of the superb dinner I had there on Friday, I have to wonder why Joseph Leonard isn't more frequently discussed or mentioned on CH.
They are no reservations and the wait pushed an hour and a half (I know that alone strikes JL from some CHers lists...), but the quality of the food and amiable service made it one of the best meals I've recently had in the city. So much so that we're going back today for brunch. (P.S. They will take down your phone number of call you when your table's ready, if you want to grab a drink somewhere else.)
We were seated in the wee back corner, on two bar stools literally at the pass from the kitchen—very lucky seats. From there, Chef Jim McDuffee himself was not only preparing our food, but also our server, and our dinner partner as we chatted throughout the night.
We ordered the octopus with white bean puree, parsley pesto and almonds to start, but before that, Jim treated us to duck rillettes which were delicious. When we ordered our octopus, we had mentioned the cauliflower but decided not to order it. Jim must have overheard us, because a gorgeous plate of caramelized cauliflower with capers, mustard vinaigrette and pine nuts, came out along with the octopus. Both were beyond tasty. The octopus was some of the most tender I've ever had, and the caramelized cauliflower was juxtaposed with slices of raw cauliflower too, making for a neat textural comparison.
For mains, we ordered the famous pork hock with arugula, crispy capers and lemon, and the striped bass with parsnip puree, haricot vert, pickled apple and brown butter. We also requested a side of the Sriracha Brussels sprouts.
This man can cook! The pork hock (the size of both of my fists put together!) was fall-off-the-bone tender and the lightly dressed arugula salad was a great compliment. The sea bass had a crispy skin and a perfect flake. Of course, it was also drowned in the most decadent brown butter sauce I've ever had. Sriracha Brussels sprouts were just a great tribute to my favorite vegetable and something that I look forward to recreating at home.
I forgot to mention that, sitting at the pass, we were lucky to watch all of the dishes come out of this minuscule kitchen. Jim told us that the whole restaurant is the size of a one-bedroom apartment and the kitchen truly is not much bigger than mine. He also said they have no prep area downstairs, either. Watching these four guys cook and plate these gorgeous dishes in such a small space was inspiring.
Then: dessert. Once again, Jim treated us to a salted caramel pudding and a chestnut cheesecake with cassis sauce. The salted caramel pudding was delicately flavored—not cloying, just sweet enough, perfectly textured, and the chestnut cheesecake was just as good as everything else.
Jim and his whole staff are amazing, and we received way more comped food than we ever deserved. Jim seems very proud of his what his kitchen puts out (rightfully so) and the whole restaurant seemed to revolve around making sure patrons were happy, which, as we all know, is the polar opposite of some restaurants in the city. I'm thrilled to know that this place is in my 'hood and hopefully (bar no more fires!) they will be around for many years to come.
170 Waverly Pl, New York, NY 10014