You might expect a restaurant named for saxophone great Charlie “Bird” Parker to have a jazz soundtrack – but at Charlie Bird in Soho, you’d be mistaken. Instead, classic hip-hop rules the stereo system, and the jazzy element is expressed in the free-form format of the restaurant, where a serious wine list and refined menu seem natural against a soundtrack of Biggy and Dr. Dre.
It helps that these tunes are played at the ideal volume: loud enough to start a party – or at least fuel a late-night crowd most nights – but not too loud to obscure dining partners’ voices. Somebody has clearly taken a lot of care with the acoustics here (the astute might notice soundproof paneling on the ceiling), and that’s hugely refreshing in this brave new dining era of extreme hard surfaces. The draperies and linens might be gone, but here the overbearing din and clatter are absent – it’s a good restaurant for conversation.
That is, after you decide what to order. The food menu by chef Ryan Hardy (most recently stationed at The Little Nell, the luxury hotel in Aspen) leans vaguely Italian and is devoid of the usual constraints of “appetizer” and “main course,” divided instead into raw bar, pasta, small plates and large ones, plus vegetable sides. It takes a bit of puzzling to put together an appropriate lineup; the format invites sharing, and that’s what most tables do, but thanks to the sheer number of dishes this requires a little negotiation.
Pastas in simple yet slightly unexpected combinations are worth a gander – a rich duck-egg spaghetti with sea urchin, salty guanciale and lemon is rightly beloved by regulars. And while dishes like truffled egg toast might stand out at first glance, some of the best plates are the humblest. Roasted chicken, more than large enough for two, achieves the ultimate fowl feat: moist, tender meat with skin so crisp and delightfully fatty you suspect some culinary magic is at work. Hot buttered corn is pure comfort with a garlic-chive kick, and a farro salad studded with pistachios, bright mint and basil brings back sudden happy memories of warmer months.
The wine list is even more extensive, the work of Robert Bohr, best known for his masterful lineup at Cru back in the day. Happily, there are some real bargains: a handful of solid bottles in the $40 to $45 range – an unexpected kindness at a somewhat pricey place. And if you’re feeling flush, you can certainly splash out for a serious Bordeaux or Burgundy here.
There are classic cocktails too, and a few interesting beers, which is worth noting since Charlie Bird can be a drinker-and-nibbler’s destination as much as a serious dining spot. It’s another one of those restaurants, like the excellent Estela, where you can order a cocktail or an obscure bottle of a wine, a snack or a blowout feast, and it all feels natural. In short, Charlie Bird invites improvisation – pretty jazzy after all.
5 King Street
New York, NY 10012