Foul Witch is an awful name for a restaurant. Even if you don’t know it comes from Shakespeare’s Tempest — in which Prospero calls Sycorax a foul witch from Algiers – it sounds like a dis aimed at Wiccans, who are as deserving of respect as any other religion. Besides, shouldn’t a restaurant called Foul Witch be fancifully decorated with cauldrons, pentagrams, and tarot cards? (There may very well be a more Roberta’s-insidery “foul witch” reference but the group did not confirm where the name came from when Eater reached out.) Read on, Macduff!
Foul Witch stands at 15 Avenue A on a darkened block down near Houston Street. Once inside, the high-ceilinged space is assertively pleasant, with cream-colored walls and arches that lead from room to room, ending in an open kitchen. Incongruously, a series of dissimilar chandeliers hang from the ceiling, as if it were a Bowery lighting showroom.
The kitchen is an oasis of bright light as a handful of white-clad cooks dance around a wood-burning oven inscribed Foul Witch. No cauldrons in sight, but there are symbols drawn on the rear wall, including goat heads and what might be magical circles.
A friend and I arrived soon after the restaurant opened last week. Since the new spot comes from the Roberta’s pizza empire, you won’t be surprised to learn the menu consists of Italian dishes plus further invented ones. It describes itself as a wine bar, and indeed there is a by-the-glass list running to 12 glasses, several at agreeable prices ($11 and up), plus nearly as many beers. But instead of charcuterie, cheese, and small plates, a full-blown restaurant menu offers 24 dishes in six categories. And much of the food proved to be good beyond our wildest imaginings.
First to materialize was testa ($14). Instead of thin, cold slices of head cheese, there was a giant, warm, seething plank, juicy as hell and perfect with the free bread that appeared at the same time with well-salted butter. The next dish was even better, a simple bowl of white beans cooked to creaminess and swimming in bright green olive oil. There was a little dab of smooth green salsa verde on the side.
Next up was the most curious dish we tried, small potatoes dotted with paddlefish roe in a runny white sauce — the appearance was strange but it tasted fine: let’s call it East Village surf and turf. The $29 tab also seemed a bit over-the-top. The only dish we tried that might have been better was the tripe. It followed the usual Roman recipe of tomato sauce and fresh mint, but the offal had been grilled rather than long-stewed, turning it rubbery.
Two sections of the menu might be considered main courses, the first featuring four pastas. Naturally, we picked goat garganelli ($26). This tubular pasta shaped like chicken necks was heaped with shreds of the horned animal, tasty but not pretty to look at. Veal tortellini was another appealing choice considered not ordered.
Finally, there was a stunning pork neck ($32). It was smoky and extensively seared, so you couldn’t distinguish the patches of fat and the patches of meat, meaning we ate the whole thing and found it supremely succulent. Later, I watched as one was dramatically thrust into the oven.
We were too full when we got to dessert but continued on anyway. Three were available ($10 to $12) and we got two: One was the tiniest bowl of kishu mandarin: bright orange segments as small as a baby’s pinkie flavored with herbs and serrano peppers. The dish made a fastidious and delicate conclusion to what had been a very rich and messy meal.
We filed out of the restaurant like sleepwalkers in a contented haze, having fallen under the restaurant’s spell and dreaming of our next visit.