Award-winning chefs and restauranteurs Jody Williams and Rita Sodi’s love affair with food led to a New York love story in the West Village that has burned bright for 14 years and birthed a growing restaurant empire.
The couple’s first culinary venture, Via Carota, is one of Manhattan’s most romantic restaurants inside and outside of the kitchen, and one of the hardest to snag a reservation — with 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 is hailed for its rustic Italian and French décor with a touch of Sonoma, as well as for its menu and the love story behind it.
Williams, an expert in Italian and French cuisine coming from San Francisco via Italy, was searching 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 the Tuscan-raised Chef Sodi by a plate of fried artichoke hearts, and then by each dish that followed at I Sodi.
Two and a half years later, the couple — already seasoned in middle age when they met — was living together. Williams opened the French-styled Buvette around the corner from I Sodi in 2010. Four years later, after helping each other individually in each other’s respective kitchens, they opened Via Carota. Eight years later, the restaurants are all going strong and new sibling restaurants are opening within blocks of each other: Bar Pisellino (2020) and their latest, The Commerce Inn (2022) — a departure from Europe to America, all located in the West Village.
It is clearly a match made in the kitchen. The women and their styles are opposites, Sodi has many rules, and Williams is free-spirited and random with her culinary creations, but they admire and respect each other, which makes their partnership at home and the restaurants work. That makes the restaurants not only beloved in Manhattan, but consistently rated as the best in the city.
Worth the wait
The ratings are well placed. Visiting New York from San Francisco, I found myself sitting at a table perusing the menu plucked from the back of my chair at Via Carota. I didn’t mind that it was 10 p.m. on a chilly New York night and that it took enlisting my auntie and my girlfriend’s help to get the reservation. We were seated inside at a table, although diners who filled the tables outside also appeared to be quite cozy with the lights and heat lamps burning hot and bright.
Like with all great things that are hard to get, the wait was well worth it.
The rustic interior, with antiques tucked in nearly every crevice, makes you feel like you are being invited into an Italian family’s home. It should feel old, warm, and inviting. The decor was inspired by the 13th century home Sodi grew up in. The restaurant is filled with pieces from her childhood home and antiques Williams randomly collects in antique shops and flea markets. The warmth of Sodi’s Italian home and the women’s energy is felt in every corner of the restaurant.
Just like the food, the service is warm, friendly, and simple, not too hands-on, but all your needs are instantly met.
As for the food, the simplest ingredients are stripped naked, transformed, and presented to diners on the plate with humble perfection. There is no fanfare, but each dish is packed with flavor and pairs well with the selection of Italian wines hailing from nearly every region of Italy.
First came the pile of leafy greens shining on the plate dressed in a sherry vinaigrette, the insalata verde (green salad). The refreshing tangy, sweet, and bitter leaves cleansed our palates in preparation for the Tonnarelli cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper) and the Tagliatelle with Prosciutto and parmesan cheese.
The pasta dishes were hand-rolled, cut, and cooked to perfection, then dressed up in butter, olive oil, cheese. They were finished with either pepper or Prosciutto and parmesan and served in perfect swirling pillowy clouds. The dishes’ simplicity hides the sophistication of the artistry and execution of crafting the pasta and balancing the ingredients to deliver the nuanced flavors of the creamy melted nutty cheese, butter, and pepper that covered the soft strands of pasta in my Tonnarelli cacio e pepe.
The Tagliatelle with Prosciutto and parmesan cheese was just as simple and distinct in its own flavor. It is pure Italian and simply delicious. Each dish we ordered paired 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.