Ancient City Appetite: Joseph’s Culinary Pub

Do not miss these dishes:

Pressed pork belly with apple demi glace (with preserved lemon, pickled ginger, and Brussels sprout slaw). $16. Addictive, sensual, and possibly sinful.

Duck fat fries (from the Bar Menu, with homemade ketchup). $9. Tied with the steak au poivre for the best dish on the menu.

Crispy duck, salt-cured confit style (with a sweet potato caramel glaze, French lentils, warm radicchio, and pancetta salad). $28. A little more duck meat and a little less duck fat than you find in your garden-variety, Balthazarstyle duck confit, but no less delicious. If you’re at the bar—and the seats at the bar are the best seats in the house—order the crispy duck as an appetizer.

Steak au poivre (New Mexico beef tenderloin with Madeira wine, porcini mushroom sauce, and smashed potatoes). $42. A local classic. Order it rare, even if you usually order your steak medium rare. The texture is the whole story. Cracked peppercorns tenderize the meat. The steak’s interaction with the Madeira, porcinis, and smashed potatoes takes you to the heart of luxury: Space, time, delight without guilt, indulgence without remorse.

Butterscotch pudding with caramel sauce and sea salt. $12. It would be a crime to leave the restaurant without tasting this dessert.

There are the people you meet and get to know, there are the people you meet but will never know, and then there are the people you meet and feel like you’ve known all your life. Joseph Wrede, the Joseph behind Joseph’s, falls into the third category. His cooking is an extension of his good nature. Each dish is an old friend, but an old friend with a stranger’s sense of adventure. Jordi Savall playing “A Love Supreme” on a seventeenth century viola, if you will.

Drinking at Joseph’s can be as much fun as eating there. At $15 a glass or $45 a bottle, the Berlucchi “Cuvée-61” Rosé sparkling wine works with everything. At $110 a bottle, the 2009 Château La Nerthe Châteauneuf-duPape is the best red wine on a deep list. If you’re eating at the bar and don’t feel like drinking wine, the Chimay ale from Belgium—at $15 a chilled goblet—is a worthy complement to the crispy duck and steak au poivre.

Joseph’s is that rare combination: a serious restaurant that refuses to take itself too seriously. Call them. Ask for seats at the bar, or in the main room by the door or the windows. Pace yourself. Food this good can be eaten in a hurry, but it tastes that much better when you take your time.