Isnt bone marrow a little like the quiche of the aughts? asked one of my guests as we scanned the menu at Harold Dieterles neighborly, slightly schizophrenic German-and-Italian fusion restaurant, the Marrow, which opened not long ago on the corner of Bank and Greenwich Streets in the West Village. The answer is yes, although were well past the aughts now, and unlike many other post-gourmet culinary trends (lobster rolls, Wagyu sliders, haute meatballs), the great marrowbone craze is still going strong. The marrowbone is a beloved totem of the hipster nose-to-tail set (its served with escargot at the new M. Wells operation at PS1) and a high-margin favorite at savvy big-city bistros like Minetta Tavern. The last time I checked, Le Bernardin even had marrowbone on its menu (topped with opulent spoonfuls of uni), and it has become so popular among urban beefeaters its a wonder nobodys named a steakhouse after it yet.
Dieterles newest restaurant isnt actually a steakhouse, although you can get various cuts of beef on the strangely bifurcated menu, along with a somewhat stodgy, canoe-size marrowbone, topped, less elegantly than at Le Bernardin, with smudges of faintly overcooked uni. Theres a perpetually crowded marble bar in the back of the room where you can sip glasses of Barolo in the evenings, along with a decent selection of Germanic house beers. For years, the slightly awkward, L-shaped space housed a popular Village bistro called Commune, and Dieterle and his partners have remodeled it with rows of café tables on one side and a pod of great moon-shaped red leather banquettes on the other. The walls are decorated with vibrantly patterned, Victorian-style wallpaper (Bold Grandma, Ms. Platt called the print), and on frosty winter evenings, the big picture windows at the front of the house steam up in a convivial, old-fashioned way.
Dieterle, who runs Perilla in the West Village and the excellent Thai establishment Kin Shop, is an accomplished fusion chef (and the first Top Chef winner), and the Marrow is designed as a kind of fusion restaurant, too. The menu is divided into two columns, each one dedicated to the formidably stolid comfort cuisines of the chefs youth (German on his fathers side, Italian on his mothers). The house bread is a freshly baked pretzel bun, brought to the table with two kinds of dipping sauce, one a simple Italian olive oil, the other made with creamy, sweet German mustard. The first salvo of finger foods I sampled included a plate of baked dates the size of cigar butts (an Italian version of devils on horseback, wrapped with prosciutto instead of bacon), and cold, cocktail-size weisswurst wanly dabbed with apple butter. An excellent housemade cotechino sausage appeared after that, followed by fatty lamb ribs marinated, sauerbraten style, in vinegar and wine and encased in a dry, bready crust.
This is the Axis of Really Heavy Foods, one of the World War II buffs at the table noted as we poked at the aforementioned marrowbone, which resides on the Italian side of the appetizer menu and is served with toast points the size of small dinner plates. If youre in the mood for more heft early in the meal, you can complement these monsters with a bowl of richly cheesy fettuccine (folded with acorn squash and pork sausage) or a small mountain of braised cuttlefish (simmered in a cast-iron skillet with bits of salty guanciale and a buttery, faintly spicy hint of XO sauce). The stoutest of the German appetizers is the stoutly named Schupfnudeln (braised rabbit leg with Riesling sauce), but if youre wise, youll save room for a bite or two of the cooling, comparably dainty arctic char, which is cured in-house and plated with baby beets, horseradish cream, and a scattering of crunchy pistachios.
The entrées tend to be more prosaic than the appetizers, and if youre looking for an escape from the unrelenting procession of lumpen, protein-heavy grub, youre more or less out of luck. I enjoyed the chunky, salami-rich panzanella salad buried beneath my substantial helping of grilled chicken, but the chicken itself was overbrined and overcooked. I had been hearing nice things about Dieterles duck schnitzel, but our order was strangely devoid of flavor (I dont know what Im eating, said Ms. Platt), and the crust had a cafeteria-style thickness to it. The best of these hearty compositions, by far, is the braciole (made with chunks of brisket instead of pork), and if youre in the mood for a steak, order the Wagyu culotte instead of the funky, wildly pricey rib-eye special for two ($120), which comes with many picturesque trimmings (giant potato rösti, onions, undercooked garden carrots) but was medium, not rare (as wed ordered it), and thickly charred on its exterior in a way that called to mind burned toast.
Dieterles restaurants tend to improve with age, and that could be the case here too. But the stolid, canonical specialties of old Europe dont tend to lend themselves to fusion experiments the way the more nimble, vibrantly flavored cuisines of Asia do, and right now too many dishes at the Marrow seem to work better in theory than they do on the plate. The exceptions are the desserts, which the pastry chef, Ginger Fisher, infuses with a deft combination of Italian style and Germanic heft. There are plump, cream-filled Berliners rolled in sugar, and a nice chocolate budino topped with mascarpone crema and lacquered chunks of hazelnut brittle. But the perfect way to end your dinner at this hearty trencherman restaurant is with a slab of the house ginger-stout cake, which is big enough to feed a small party of lumberjacks but dissolves, as you eat it, into a delicate soup laced with molasses, roasted pears, and honey ice cream.
99 Bank St., at Greenwich St.; 212-428-6000
Hours: Dinner Monday through Thursday 5 to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday to 11:30 p.m., Sunday to 10 p.m. Brunch Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Prices: Appetizers, $6 to $16; entrées, $23 to $33.
Ideal Meal: Cotechino or cured arctic char, brisket braciole, ginger-stout cake.
Note: In accordance with the fusion theme, the compact, decently chosen wine list is evenly divided between bottles from Italy and Germany.
Scratchpad: The concept hasnt quite jelled yet, but well give half a star for the neighborly setting and another half for the desserts.
Photograph by Victor Prado/New York Magazine
*This article originally appeared in the March 4, 2013 issue of New York Magazine.