I stepped out of a steamy cab yesterday after having spent the whole day at the cloud computing conference and felt as if I had entered civilization (I love the cloud community, but I love SoHo more, I think). It’s hot, it’s summer, and people are relaxed in open-windowed restaurants with glasses of wine and beer, and iced water. And everywhere you go, bits of conversation fill the air. There’s a sense of community, but it’s perfectly okay to ignore everyone. I love it.
I was meeting my friends Robin and Mark at 12 Chairs Cafe on 56 MacDougal, on the border of SoHo and the West Village. Robin described the restaurant as Israeli-ish. There were numerous Mediterranean elements, but lots to choose from that was strictly Israeli, including the Gamla Sauvignon Blanc I drank.
We sat by the window and immediately dove into easy conversation, as one does with friends, and began ordering.
I started with Israeli guacamole, accompanied by toasted wedges with lots of paprika. Fabulous. Really. And what is Israeli guacamole, you ask? It has egg in it. It could have used a bit more salt for my taste, but I made a decision not to add salt and just enjoy it for what it was.
We also received at the table olives, which were fantastic. I didn’t ask (I often don’t) but I tasted a hint of hot pepper.
For the main course, I got the lamb burger, extra dead (as Woody Allen might describe it), and that was a mistake. The meat was cooked just as I like it, but the outside was charred. Perhaps next time I’ll say “dead” instead of “extra dead”. Regardless, it was delicious. It came with the restaurant’s own version of a Thousand Island sauce, with a spicy kick. Had they placed a larger bowl of the sauce next to my plate, I would have finished it. It was delicious.
French fries accompanied the burger, and as French fries tend to be, they were filling. Delicious, and filling.
The original owner of 12 Chairs Cafe was Israeli and her daughter loved the Russian book by Ilf and Petrov, The 12 Chairs, hence the name of the restaurant. The story is about two Russian men who learn of a treasure in a chair that is one of a set of 12. They return to Moscow to find the chair but—wouldn’t you know it—the chairs have been separated. A treasure hunt ensues.
The restaurant in its first iteration did indeed have 12 chairs (according to our waitress, who was exceptional). It has grown certainly, but maintained intimacy. I can imagine coming back in any season. The staff is knowledgeable and friendly, and the acoustics just fine for close-quartered discussions. Go.
12 Chairs Cafe
56 MacDougal St
New York 10012
Also, Robin's photography blog: http://robinholland.wordpress.com/