August Restaurant is More than a Summer Haven

[Photographs: Craig Cavallo]

Talking about winter as March pushes on is exhausting. The season has begun to overstay it's welcome and spring seems miles away. Further still are the succulent foods that ride the heat wave of summer. August, a restaurant on the east side of Bleecker Street between Charles and West 10th, was inspired by and built around such fare. The restaurant may be hibernating for a few more weeks, but nothing about a winter meal there is tired.

The bar and Village regulars sit just inside the door. Diners tucked into the small table by the front window inadvertently reveal to passersby that the modest storefront is actually a restaurant. But if you pass the bar and the wood-burning oven, you find yourself in an enchanting fortress of brick and cement, sized perfectly for a Manhattan restaurant. It's also an apt setting for Josh Eden's sturdy cuisine.

In its 10-year run, August has seen chef scuffles and inconsistencies. Now there are options for everyone: chicken, fish, beef, lamb, pork, duck, crab, and mussels. Vegetarians have choices too, and I can't imagine many dine there without ordering the Margherita Pizza ($12). It's on the small side, but so is the price tag. The wafer-thin crust could have more of a snap if it were left in the oven for thirty seconds and a pinch of coarse salt would help too, but August isn't a pizza joint.

It's not a seafood shack either, but that charade is less obvious when you pull chunks of sweet, delicate Peekytoe Crab ($18) from a salad of popcorn, hazelnuts, and brown butter. The popcorn is a strange addition, until you realize how its texture mimics a fried soft shell crab.

There's a tangled nest of Fresh Spaghetti ($17), to which Eden (who has 12 years with Jean Georges on his resume) piles tender shreds of duck, fresh currants, and an inkling of tomato for a ragu that works overtime. The plate is finished with milky stracciatella cheese, so creamy it nearly disintegrates into the blazing pasta hot out of the skillet.

How do you charge $36 for a gyro? You don't. But you can get domestic lamb, break it down into hefty chops, and serve them with cucumber, yogurt, and pita. That way, the flavors are all there, minus the foil cone. The pita with Eden's American Lamb Rack ($36) isn't of the pocket variety. It's cut into strips instead; fried and well salted to make the perfect shovel for which no yogurt is safe. The juice from medium-rare lamb swirls artistically with that yogurt, and though this isn't a sandwich, you're welcome to pick up that meat and gnaw on the bone.

The winter highlight at August is the Braised Short Ribs ($33). Beef struggles to hold itself together after a long braise, but manages to withstand a quick sear on the grill before it leaves the kitchen. A mound of conflicted Brussels sprouts—torn between maintaining their crunch and wilting under the silky, sweet, spicy honey sriracha sauce splashed onto the plate—is rained down over the Flintstone cut, and their dark, toasted edges match the deep hue beef takes on after a day in the oven.

Like all of the food at August, the dish is an execution in simplicity, even if it, like others, fetches a few dollars more than it needs to. It might seem like a fib to eat at August in March, but what's in a name?