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Posts from the ‘wine bar’ Category

Anfora: dell’anima’s Chic-er and Sleeker Sister

Even with all the bars and restaurants in New York, it’s often difficult to find a sophisticated hybrid of the two genres, where you can enjoy a glass of wine or a cocktail with bites to eat in an informal environment. Anfora, the sister restaurant to West Village favorite dell’anima, is the type of bar/restaurant you want to go to on a first date, with enough buzz and hip factor to impress and enough legitimately good food and drink to make the high prices worthwhile.

Just a few doors down from dell’anima where 8th Avenue transforms into the infinitely more charming Hudson Avenue, Anfora is, in one word, sleek. The dark and slinky room is more lounge-y than most wine bars, with several low-lying couches and what I think of as ‘kiddie stools’ for people to perch on. The look is simple – exposed brick, fresh white walls, luxurious Earth tones, verdant plants here and there. No frou-frou decor to be found here. Though the rich leather couches may beckon after a long-day, the best seats are at the bar. Sitting at the bar, not only do you get to interact with the competent, knowledgeable, warm and exceedingly welcoming bartenders, but you also get much faster drink and food service.

Speaking of drink and food, Anfora is, in the first instance, a wine bar. And a very good one at that. I won’t pretend to know left from right about wine; however, the selection of both wines by the bottle and wines by the glass is vast and diverse. Perhaps the most surprising thing about Anfora though (or perhaps not so surprising if you’re a fan of dell’anima, which I was resoundingly not) is how wonderful the food generally is. The menu offers Italian-inspired small plates, charcuterie, cheese, and panini. The grilled cheese, made with gruyere, cheddar and onions, is thin, not greasy, and pleasingly cheesy; in fact, it’s better than that offered at Melt Shop, a Midtown East stand devoted entirely to grilled cheese sandwiches, and at the ‘cheese bar’ Casellula. The lamb ragu sliders are just plain ridiculous; served on a ciabatta roll with nutty and sharp pecorino, these little ‘burgers’ pack an incredibly flavorful punch.

The crostini are mostly delicious – the spicy chorizo with avocado, lime, chili and mint was my favorite. The flavor combination was surprising and unusual – not your average crostini! The ricotta crostini is also great, probably because it’s virtually impossible to make fluffy ricotta with sea salt taste bad. The tuna salad and curry egg salad crostini were both decent, if you like tuna and egg salad, but by no means a ‘must-order.’ Lastly, the chickpea romesco option is wonderful, nutty with chopped almonds and rich parmesan, zesty with piquillo peppers. Though the menu is limited, it’s well ‘curated’ and developed; the dishes offered don’t mess around flavor-wise and are the ideal small bites to complement your glass of Chianti or whatever was recommended that evening.

Anfora is a charming place – a snazzy West Village wine bar that’s not too cutesy on the one hand and not too trendy on the other. Although it can get busy on Thursday and Friday nights, the helpful staff does their best to find room for you and more often than not, waiting for 15 minutes yields a few seats here and there. The food is almost universally good – the type of yummy Italian that pairs wonderfully with wine – and the drinks are, of course, great. Just watch out – a few cocktails with a couple glasses of wine and some victuals here and there can add up quickly – Anfora is certainly not cheap!

Perfect For: first dates, oenophiles, after-work drinks

Anfora on Urbanspoon

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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

Quartino Bottega Organica on Urbanspoon

Terroir: Making Grapes Cool Again

Grapes haven’t been this cool since elementary school, when the purple juice box was more coveted than the red or yellow varieties. While Terroir’s technically not a restaurant, its so worthy of mention I couldn’t neglect it. This gem on a quiet block of the East Village transcends the cookie-cutter wine bars that litter the streets of Manhattan; it takes the art of serving, pairing and enjoying wine to new levels without any of the pretentious jibber-jabber typical of wine enthusiasts.

Intimate without being crowded, lively without being a total zoo, Terroir strikes the perfect balance between being accessible to those just looking to enjoy a glass of whatever and stocking a selection of wines pleasing to connoisseurs. Small and simple, there is a bar where you can interact regularly with the staff and a long communal table for a quieter experience. The space is distinguished only by mellow light wood, a board with colorful magnetic letters spelling out the day’s specials (a welcome twist on the ubiquitous chalkboard), and a tiny side-kitchen for prepping the wide array of bar snacks and treats.

The wine menu is extensive and overwhelming for first-timers – most of the options are bottles, though there are a good number of wines by the glass. My only gripe with the selection is that you’re hard-pressed to find a glass under $10 and most creep towards $20. I won’t pretend to wax poetic about the wines offered, as I’m by no means that knowledgeable; however, you will find well-curated options from France, Italy, America, Australia, Germany, Austria, and really any major wine-producing area, both new world and old world. The specialty of the house is reisling, and three whole pages of bottles are offered, with a particular emphasis on Spatlese.

The food menu is pointed towards small plates and bar snacks – nothing complicated, nothing hefty. The little nibbles are surprisingly elegant and delicious, showing that care is taken not only to please wine-drinkers but also those seeking sustenance. Bar snacks include marinated olives, roasted beets with oranges and hazelnuts, an unusual cheese selection, and the usual charcuterie suspects. Larger selections range from panini (a banh mi italiano with pork terrine and mortadella, duck ham with hen of the woods mushrooms and taleggio cheese) to bruschetta, salads, veal & ricotta meatballs, risotto balls and even desserts. The grub is excellent, particularly when paired with an unusual and quirky wine – definitely try some of the cheese options, which are certain to surprise your palette.

Terroir, one of the few wine bars in Manhattan to keep it simple and keep it unusual – it’s perfect for more sedated meetings with friends than many of the neighboring watering holes may offer, a wine-fueled romantic date (it’s intimate!), or a slow and leisurely wind-down from a long day at the office.

Terroir on Urbanspoon

The Ultimate Date Spot

Pasita embodies the essence of the West Village dining scene: cozy, top quality, friendly service, casual. On the corner of 8th Avenue and W.4th St, the railroad space oozes charm with an open kitchen (including a burning brick pizza oven), a tiny wine bar, handsome and soft-spoken waiters, soft live Spanish guitar, and a healthy dose of exposed brick. It’s the perfect storm of sensual music, delicious interactive food, unobtrusive service, and a laidback vibe.

Although I had already fallen hard for Pasita just by stepping in the door, I really knew I’d found true love when I tried their French-Venezuelan menu, focused on flatbread pizzas and mezze starters called Pasapalos. The food isn’t complicated or ‘haute’; it is satisfying and heart-warming. The flatbreads are innovative with fun flavor combinations like spiced beef, manchego and red pepper or pesto, roasted squash, arugula, and mozzarella. The small plates include arepitas (sand dollar-sized arepas), tequenos, yuca frites, and empanaditas. The tequenos are my personal favorite – dressed-up mozzarella sticks, they are delightfully gooey and downright delicious.
To wax poetic for a moment, the flatbreads are divine. Bursting with Spanish-inspired flavors and made with a soft and doughy yet crispy in exactly the right spots crust, they just hit the spot. They master the art of flavor manipulation, tantalizing with savory, sweet, and salty components. The Queso Valdeon variation is made for cheese-heads. Loaded with valdeon, parmesan, goat cheese, mozzarella, nata, fresh rosemary and a side of honey, this white pizza is a gooey cheese sensation, both marvelously savory and sweet. The Ropa Vieja is meaty and intense, with sharp manchego cheese, sweet caramelized onions, and spiced beef.
I’m a big fan of high-end pizza for dates because of the interactive sharing aspect; and trust me, Pasita’s funky flatbreads and sexy Latin vibe make this hole-in-the-wall gem the ultimate casual date spot. Split a bottle of the South American & Iberian wines with your date, share a basket of tequenos and a pesto & squash flatbread, and just relax to the sweet live tunes.

Pasita on Urbanspoon

SD26: San Domenico’s Ugly Half-Sister

Ignore the hype. Save yourself $200 and just ignore the hype. Tony and Marisa May’s follow-up to traditional Italian favorite San Domenico is a bloody disaster. Everything from the decor to the value to the service to the clientele to even the quality of the food is somehow totally disappointing. Let me enumerate the ways for you:

Decor: There is something bizarre about the look of SD26. It is cold, modern, and yet completely boring all at the same time. The front lounge area has far too much open space; it looks under-furnished and cheaply done. The back restaurant room is a sterile white cavern with bizarre massive dangling balls of thread. Are they trying to entice mice?
Service: Considering entrees range from $30-$50, the service at SD26 should be white-gloved and perfection. Quite to the contrary, both hostesses (yes, there are two to get through before you’re seated) were completely unhelpful and only seated us when 20min after our 9:30 reservation, we demanded to be led to our table immediately (or else.) Our waiter was fine (although sans personality) until he handed us a bill that was almost exactly double what we should pay and had none of the items we ordered. In a restaurant of this ilk, should it not be BASIC for patrons to at least get their own bill?
Food: The food was pretty good. Was it what I expected? Did it totally blow me away? Was it worth the exorbitant prices? No, absolutely not. But, all in all, the menu was both inspired and inspiring, and the food was mostly tasty. The chitarra pasta (featured on the website) was well-cooked, well-seasoned, and all-in-all a successful dish. Yes, the sauce was a bit ordinary, but I enjoyed the satisfying heartiness of the pasta. The lamb chops were the highlight of the meal, served at the right temperature with a truly delicious mint couscous (yum). My boyfriend opted for the pork belly salumeria, which was served in thin strips reminiscent of lard. The strips tasted pretty good but looked very unappetizing. The braised beef cheeks in red wine reduction sounded incredible, yet were dried out and really plain.
Scene: The wine bar & lounge in the front were crowded with what looked to be middle age singles and groups of after-work drinks taking advantage of the wine vending machine (admittedly, pretty freaking cool). The restaurant was packed with pseudo-outer borough could-be-mafia types flashing their bling bling and loudly ordering every and all expensive items on the menu. Needless to say, younger by 15 years than the average table and noticeably quieter, my boyfriend and I felt a bit out of place…
All in all, SD26 is over-the-top in all the wrong ways and falls short where it really needs to succeed. The bread and butter of a successful restaurant, good food and good service, were absent. The unbelievably high prices for such a lackluster experience have me betting that once the hype dies, SD26 will be hurting badly for business.

SD26 on Urbanspoon

Gotta Gotta Go Back to Gottino

I’ll admit it – I have a fetish for cozy wine bars, especially those dangerously within walking distance of my West Village apartment. I thought I had checked out all the neighborhood haunts (read: Cafe Condesa, The Upholstery Store) as well as the offerings in Soho, Tribeca, and Chelsea. Imagine my surprise when I realized I had missed one of the better wine rooms in the area: Gottino.

Italian-focused and owned by the executive chef at nearby Morandi, Jody Williams, Gottino is what she terms a ‘gastroteca.’

A small sliver of a space with a long marble bar and a cluster of rickety wooden farmhouse tables in the back, Gottino packs an haute cuisine punch in a warm albeit cramped space.

The look is rustic, the food is gastrorustic, and the wine is Italian. Every piece of decor, every menu item, each wine, and each server all work together to embody Jody Williams’ vision of her Italian gastropub, her not-just-a-wine-bar wine bar. The seamless blend of gourmet cuisine, creative wine selection, and charming knowledge service pushes Gottino above its cookie-cutter competitors throughout Manhattan. Every detail is on-point from the candy apple red meat slicer, flickering tealight candles, mismatched chairs, and quirky farmhouse prints on the walls. The exposed brick is sure to woo every wine-loving female in Manhattan. All in all, the look and the vibe are charmingly cohesive.

I’m not a sommelier, so I won’t pretend to know what I’m talking about when it comes to wine. However, I do know what I like and what I don’t like. The Valpolicella I had came in an appropriately sized quartino (2-3 glasses) and was spicy, full-bodied and thrilling; it was by no means a run-of-the-mill Italian red table wine. While I paid dearly for it, it was worth every penny.

Don’t let the term gastropub mislead you. There is no pub fare here. In fact, there is very little substantive food. I would classify the offerings as small bites and tapas. The small crostinis, meats, and cheeses that are served reflect Jody’s attention to detail: they are innovative, bold-flavored, and pair well with wines. If you ask the server, he can bring out dishes that work well with your vino! Part of me wishes that Gottino would offer full-fledged dinner, mostly because I could spend hours there, savoring wines into the night. This girl need sustenance!

Perfect for a nightcap, a romantic date, a wine-fueled after-work gathering, Gottino evokes comfort and warmth; it seduces you with intriguing bottles of wine and small bites of savory food. Gottino joins the ranks of Terroir as Jody Williams brings the concept of ‘the wine bar’ to new gastronomic heights.

Gottino Enoteca E Salumeria on Urbanspoon

Oh la Lelabar

I think I’m in love…with Lelabar. New York is peppered with wine bars hoping to be noticed. Most are pretty average, whether in atmosphere or selection. However, Lelabar, a seductive room on Hudson in the West Village, stands out from the crowd.

The space itself is the perfect backdrop to a pleasant night of wining and dining. Just one room with an over-sized ovular bar, Lelabar encourages interaction not only with those around you but with the extremely knowledgeable sommeliers. Bar stools line the bar. A large chalkboard outlines daily wine and food specials as well upcoming events (they host wine tastings on Sunday nights) and news bites. Dim lighting flickers through wine glasses and gives a sexy glow to everyone. Simple, spare, clean, Lelabar wastes no expense on overwrought details.

The real reason to come here though is magnificent and rotating selection of wine and the meticulously prepared food. To start with the simpler (and shorter) food menu, Lelabar offers snacks, including oysters, a beautiful selection of primarily French cheeses, lamb sausages, goose liver pate, an assortment of salumi, pressed sandwiches, fresh salads (think Watermelon Salad in the summer…), and chocolates. The selection of food items complements wonderfully the wine, offering palate cleansers and partners.

The wine menu is unique. As long as you order 2 glasses, you can get any wine on the menu by the glass. They offer wines from all over the world: Italy, Spain, France, USA, South America, Australia, New Zealand, Israel and South Africa, to name a few. Use a few descriptor words, and the sommelier will produce the perfect glass. On a dark and rainy night, I wanted a deep smoky red and he produced the most wondrous glass of red wine, paired with a soft and mild set of cheeses. I was in heaven. Lelabar also offers a limited selection of bottled beers, for those who need a break from the wining.

At Lelabar, even if you know nothing about wine, you can rest assured that you’ll end up with the perfect glass to fit your mood, and a small snack to accompany it. It’s the type of place where once you snag a place at the bar, you can lounge there all night, indulging in wine, cheese, and good conversation.

Lelabar on Urbanspoon