Jolene is the newest member of the Happy Cooking team. These are the guys responsible for the West Village neighborhood hits like Fairfax and Joseph Leonard. They have perfected the neighborhood restaurant over the past decade. Jolene is a unique location for them, located in the Noho neighborhood. This is our review of Jolene restaurant in NYC.
If you are wondering why you can’t get a reservation online, it’s because this place is tiny. Thank goodness for outdoor seating otherwise it would be impossible to get into, with the 15 or so tables inside. The vibe reminds us of the small Marais bistros in Paris. Rustic wooden tables and simplicity describe the decor best. They’re not going to win awards for the design, but it’s a comfortable and lively atmosphere. Every table is packed, and it’s a place people come just to meet up for a casual meal.
We have been major fans of Happy Cooking, from the days of Fedora and Montmartre. There is always something on the menu that is just so exceptionally noteworthy. It’s not that their food is gastronomic, but it’s consistently crave-worthy good. The menu is one of the reasons you come back continually as a repeat client. That’s why Jolene surprised us. It’s not that the food isn’t good. On starters, the potato chips are homemade and salmon rilette served with Ritz crackers are signature Happy Cooking. However there was nothing on the menu that knocked it out of the park. It was all decent, but not remarkable, like their previous restaurants. For example, at Bar Sardine when they were a Japanese concept, you dreamt of the salmon sushi. At Montmartre, they did a classic brandade that is impossible to find in the city. At Jolene, there’s nothing that you would specifically go back for. In fact, there’s one menu item – the littleneck clam toast, that had broth that tasted like dirty dishwater. We attribute it to some bitter garlic, but it was surprisingly not Happy Cooking quality. The reason to come back is the neighborhood restaurant vibe.
The reason the Happy Cooking restaurants have done so well is because they understand service is the foundation. Service is like clockwork. The host is always welcoming and professional, even if they can’t accommodate your no-reservation. You’re almost never waiting in purgatory to get water, your first beverage or have your order taken. Servers are knowledgeable about the food and consistently make good recommendations. There’s no attitude, and Jolene represents the best of a neighborhood place. That’s probably why they are consistently booked and for a low-key meal, there are repeat guests.