Quartino: A New Breed of Wine Bar
Although they exist en masse in almost every Manhattan neighborhood, wine bars often get a bad rep among New Yorkers for being too crowded, too bland, and too staid and for serving bad food. Yet, downtown, in the newly gentrified mini-hood around Bowery and Houston, a new breed of wine bar is emerging, slowly. Quartino Bottega Organiza fits this bill – a slinky and casual wine bar frequented by hipsters and yuppies alike that serves satisfying and sophisticated organic Mediterranean-inspired cuisine.
Seating just 29, Quartino is small and intimate; though size is often a shortcoming of wine bars, either Quartino hasn’t been ‘discovered’ yet or the limited space is used magnificantly, for rarely have I felt cramped or crowded. The room is a long and narrow rectangle, furnished with a long row of slightly rickety wooden tables for two, a few prime tables in the large and airy window, and a long bar with seating. The white walls are bare, save for the antique lanterns shedding a dim golden glow over the hip and lively crowd. A serene simplicity defines Quartino where overdone and thematic design flourishes are eschewed in favor of a sparse and subdued elegance.
Quartino emphasizes sustainable agriculture, and this environmentally-friendly bent manifests itself from the menu and the wine list down to the lack of air conditioning during the hot summer months (watch out!) and the ‘biodynamic’ glass water bottles. Whether you love or hate the Energy Saver theme, the quality of the simple Mediterranean food at Quartino is undeniable. Have I mentioned yet that it’s vegetarian? Well, it is, and you would never really know it unless you had a hankering for a steak or a big hunk of pork chop. There is no in-your-face political vegetarianism going on here – just good and accessible meatless cuisine.
While the menu does rotate on occasion, expect a limited selection of antipasti dishes that pair nicely with the organic (and wonderful!) wines offered, whole wheat pizzas, and a few pastas. The baked spinach with shaved parmesan is a notable highlight, as is the soft and fresh homemade mozzarella, served drizzled with olive oil, sea salt, heirloom tomatoes and bright zingy basil. The house special, the Focaccia al Formaggio, is beautiful, with two flavorful layers of foccaccia stuffed with melty stracchino cheese – a must-have for cheese lovers. Rice and pasta dishes are kept simple, with few ingredients and basic preparation. Try the brown rice with pumpkin and asparagus, a fresh and soul-satisfying savory dish with lots of bold starchy flavor.
Quartino is simple and refreshing – there’s no pretention or posing, no snobby waiters or pushy clientele, no need for stilettos and lipstick. The vibe is casual and comfortable; it’s a place you can just walk into and grab a table, no need for reservations or manic advance planning. Order a bottle of verdicchio, a plate of mozzarella, sit back, and relax.
Perfect For: hobnobbing with hipsters, lingering over appetizers and wine, a quiet night with friends, going veggie without the politics