The new pearl of Cornelia St.
RESTAURANTS • First Person
In the time before Taylor Swift moved in, the one-block stretch of Cornelia Street in Greenwich Village was best known as one of downtown’s defining restaurant rows.
Despite the tourists who now stop for selfies in front of Swift’s (long since vacated) townhouse, it remains a formidable restaurant block, anchored by Le Gigot, a timeless French bistro that’s blessedly avoided Lucien’s crushing popularity, and Silver Apricot, a New American Chinese restaurant that opened in the summer of 2020 and, despite those odds, has settled in as a neighborhood go-to.
Now, between these two restaurants in the space long occupied by the late, great Pearl Oyster Bar, appears Figure Eight. A sister to Silver Apricot, initially conceived as a casual alternative to its next-door neighbor, but punches far above that weight class: With dark-hued walls, exposed brick, and outrageously delicious food, the month-old spot is a late-breaking contender for the best date restaurant of 2023.
Emergent restaurateur Emmeline Zhao — also Silver Apricot’s sommelier and co-owner — is doing something special at Figure Eight, melding the food cultures of the places she grew up, Shanghai and the American South (North Carolina, to be exact). It’s as unlikely as it is brilliant, and it absolutely works.
Start with the seafood tower, which smashes the paradigm with a brown-butter lobster tail, pickled mussels, stone crab claws, and Shanghainese smoked fish salad (among other bites), all served with homemade cocktail sauce and spicy mustard alongside fried saltines. Our table added the crab and pimento cheese dip to the tower, a very good idea. Also on the table, another must-order: hush puppy waffle bread, made from cornmeal in a waffle iron, its unique texture inviting dipping in any of the sauces.
But the very best thing we had was a family-style main course of soy poached half chicken atop collard greens and hoppin’ John, the classic Carolina rice-and-beans staple. Served with lettuce wraps, chili crisp, and ginger-scallion sauce, the dish took the evening over the top — and onto my meals of the year list.
The cocktail program at Figure Eight is as good and different as the food. (The wine piece isn’t yet up to speed, though bottles are available from the Silver Apricot list.) Reservations are quite easily available, though at a spot this sexy and storied, they won’t be for long. –Lockhart Steele