The love affair between award-winning chefs and restaurateurs Jody Williams and Rita Sodi for food led to a New York love affair in the West Village that burned for 14 years and spawned a restaurant empire in full growth.
The couple’s first culinary adventure, Via Carotais one of Manhattan’s most romantic restaurants inside and out of the kitchen, and one of the hardest to get a reservation in — for good reason.
Via Carota at 51 Grove Street was named one of New York’s most romantic restaurants by Travel and Leisure magazine in 2017. It’s lauded for its rustic Italian and French decor with a Sonoma twist, as well as for its menu and the love story behind it.
Williams, an Italian and French food expert who came from San Francisco via Italy, was looking for authentic Italian food in New York when she fell in love with Sodi in 2008, the same year the restaurant opened. Williams was first led to Tuscan chef Sodi by a plate of fried artichoke hearts, then by each course that followed at Me Sodi.
Two and a half years later, the couple — already seasoned in middle age when they met — were living together. Williams opened the French style snack bar around the corner from I Sodi in 2010. Four years later, after helping each other individually in their respective kitchens, they opened Via Carota. Eight years later, the restaurants are all doing well and new sister restaurants are opening a few blocks from each other: Pisellino bar (2020) and their latest, The Trade Inn (2022) — a departure from Europe to America, all located in the West Village.
It’s clearly a match made in the kitchen. The women and their styles are opposites, Sodi has many rules, and Williams is free-spirited and haphazard with her culinary creations, but they admire and respect each other, which makes their partnership at home and in restaurants works. This makes the restaurants not only popular in Manhattan, but also consistently ranked as the best in the city.
Worth the wait
The odds are well placed. Visiting New York from San Francisco, I found myself sitting at a table browsing the menu plucked from the back of my chair at Via Carota. I didn’t mind that it was 10pm on a chilly New York night and had to get my aunt and girlfriend’s help to get the reservation. We were seated inside at a table, although the diners filling the tables outside also seemed quite comfortable with the lights and heat lamps burning hot and bright.
As with all good hard-to-get things, the wait was worth it.
The rustic interior, with antiques tucked into almost every crevice, makes you feel like you’ve been invited into the home of an Italian family. It should feel old, warm and inviting. The decor was inspired by the 13th century house in which Sodi grew up. The restaurant is filled with pieces from his childhood home and antiques that Williams collects randomly from antique shops and flea markets. The warmth of the Italian house of Sodi and the energy of the women can be felt in every corner of the restaurant.
Like the food, the service is warm, friendly and uncomplicated, not overly convenient, but your every need is instantly met.
As for the food, the simplest ingredients are stripped, transformed and presented to diners on the plate with humble perfection. There’s no fanfare, but each dish is bursting with flavor and pairs well with the selection of Italian wines from almost every region of Italy.
First came the heap of leafy greens that glistened on the plate dressed in a sherry vinaigrette, the insalata verde (green salad). The refreshing tart, sweet and bitter leaves cleansed our palates in preparation for Tonnarelli cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper) and Tagliatelle with prosciutto and parmesan.
The pasta dishes were hand rolled, cut and cooked to perfection, then dressed in butter, olive oil and cheese. They were finished with pepper or prosciutto and Parmesan and served in perfect swirling pillow clouds. The simplicity of the dishes belies the sophistication in the artistry and execution of making the pasta and balancing the ingredients to deliver the nuanced flavors of the creamy nutty melted cheese, butter and pepper that coated the soft pasta. of my Tonnarelli cacio e pepe.
The prosciutto and parmesan tagliatelle were equally simple and distinct in their own flavor. It’s pure Italian and simply delicious. Every dish we ordered went well with my glass of Cannonau Riserva, Pala 2017 from Sardinia.
Via Carota is the essence of what love is: good food, good company and a warm and beautiful atmosphere.