Thursday, August 7, 2008

Getting Back to New York

This post is a couple of weeks overdue now. In fact, if not for the “Coming Soon” roster in this blog’s left sidebar, it may have been lost (if not forgotten) in the land of posts that never saw the light of day. So, depending on your outlook – not to mention my constant reminder – that roster may be a blessing or a curse. In any event, I thought it would be fun to hit on some of my favorite places to visit in Manhattan, some of them bordering on ritual, along with one or two new spots. Whatever highlights and lowlights appear, they’re meant to connect the dots between the star-attractions already covered here over the last few weeks: dinner at Del Posto with the sparkling wines of Venturini-Baldini; an invitation to dine chez Brooklynguy; terrific ramen at Rai Rai Ken; and a stop at one of my favorite NY cheese mongers.

It may seem odd to the average New York tourist but to all you die-hard wine and food blog readers out there, it should come as no surprise that my jaunts to the city are largely built around, you guessed it, wine and food. It’s not that I never see a show (though it’s usually something off-off-Broadway), or hit any of the city’s world class museums and galleries. Nor that I don’t take advantage of New York’s great music scene with a stop at Jazz Standard, Tonic (currently on hiatus) or Knitting Factory, to name but a few faves. But a simple visit with friends combined with a little eating, drinking and shopping is often just what the doctor ordered. It can make for a great battery recharge.

The spot that borders most closely on ritual – I almost never miss a visit unless I’m stuck uptown for the duration of my stay – must be the Union Square Green Market (pictured above). It’s not that I usually stock up on the various and sundry goodies there, as walking around town for a couple of days with bags full of meat and veg doesn’t really work. I just love to check out what’s available. Besides, it’s a great place to experience humanity and to soak up some good vibes. On this visit, I did stop at Rick’s Picks for some GT-1000s, curried green tomato pickles that are fantastic on burgers and sandwiches.

Aside from the wine dinner at Del Posto, there were no high-art restaurant meals on this trip. I did stop in at an old school standby, though. In its entire scope, Balthazar may just be the closest thing to a real Parisian bistro on this side of the Atlantic. Though dinner there is plenty good – and the wine list has only improved over the years – my preferred times of day at Balthazar are morning and mid-afternoon. Breakfast it was, on this trip. I opted for the omelette with herbs. Done to a tee. Even the homefries were good. My pal Peter went whole hog. His standby, the full English breakfast, is enough to keep one’s motor running clear through to dinner time.

Lunch at Bouley Market & Bakery, on the other hand, was one of the lowlights of the trip. The place certainly has potential but it seems to suffer from a mixture of smug success and malign neglect. I might have liked the lobster salad sandwich if it hadn’t been pre-made. The raw materials were certainly good enough. Instead, it was strangely balanced between soggy and stale. It’s tough when the lighting fixtures are the most interesting thing a place has going for it.

No trip to New York is complete, at least for me, without at least a little wine shopping. Chambers Street Wines stands out for their fantastic selection of natural wines from the Loire Valley and Beaujolais, as well as for pretty solid selections in Burgundy, the Rhône, Champagne and Piedmont. There are plenty of wine geek oddballs to be found there as well, among the wines that is. Through August 9, most of what’s left in the shop is on sale for 20% off as they prepare for a move to a new location.

I’m still on the fence about Italian Wine Merchants. I stop by whenever I’m in the neighborhood as it’s hard to pass up the hedonistically voyeuristic aspects of browsing through their selection of wines from the likes of Giuseppe Quintarelli and Giacomo Conterno. It's also one of the prettiest, most peaceful wine stores I know. The problem is, I’m often left feeling like the shop exists mainly as a trophy case, as an outlet for the well heeled collector rather than the every day connoisseur. The fact that the shop is arranged by price point – wines get more expensive the deeper you get into the store – only seems to support that feeling. I guess I shouldn’t harp too stridently, though. On my most recent visit, I was helped by a very pleasant sales consultant who finagled their last bottle of Movia’s Ribolla Gialla “Lunar” for me even though it was earmarked for another customer. (Lest you’re thinking that was actually a disservice, there was more on order).

Lastly, I also had the pleasure of visiting a shop that was new to me, De Vino, owned by the ebullient Gabrio Tosti who writes occasionally on his shop-oriented blog, Vite Vinifera. Located just up the block from WD-50 and a short walk south from the Essex Street Market, De Vino sits in a thriving neighborhood and seems loaded with potential. Offerings are primarily from Italy, rounded out by small selections from the rest of Europe. Regrettably, I didn’t snap any pictures of my own so I’ll have to rely on one borrowed from De Vino’s website. No worries, though. I’m ready to go back.


Terence said...

Really glad you got to meet Gabrio. He's got a very nice selection.

IWM gives me a similarly cold feeling.

Speaking of bbrrrr-cold, did you get to the Moore Bros. shop in that same area?


Hurry back.

David McDuff said...

Brrr, T. I have no idea what you're talking about ;-)

It was good meeting Gabrio and a blast hanging out with you. Thanks again for the invite.

Tom Hudson said...

My thoughts on Balthazar:

(Posted Jan 03, 2007 08:10 AM)
For New Year's Eve, my wife and I travelled to NYC to spend a couple days with friends. We made reservations at a well established French Bistro in Manhattan (I prefer to leave the name annonymous).

The prixe fixe menu was $250/pp, not including wine. There was 4 of us at our table. We brought 2 bottles of wine with us, which we were charged $30/bottle corkage. We were fine with that.

After we drank the two bottles we brought with us, and about the same time our entrees were getting ready to arrive, I ordered a bottle of 1982 Cos d'Estournel ($475). Although I normally don't order wines at this price point, it was New Year's Eve and I wanted to treat my dinner guests (who were graciously hosting us at their apartment).

The sommelier/wine steward (he did not identify himself) brought the bottle to our table. He presented the bottle to me by showing me the label.

He then left our table, went around the corner, opened the bottle, decanted it and presented it to me, in the decanter to taste.

I found this extremely odd as he decanted the wine before he let me taste it, and he opened it out of my view.

When he poured a sample for me, it was obvious there was something wrong. The wine was devoid of any fruit, substance, or anything. I asked the sommelier/wine steward to see the cork as it was out of sight where he opened it (it was covered all the way through and cracked down the middle from opening). I also asked him if he had tasted the wine. He said he had not and I then asked him to. He sampled it and said nothing.

I again expressed my concern about the bottle and he asked me if I would like to return it. I said yes and he took the decanter with him and never returned, ever, for the rest of the night.

We ate our entrees with no wine.

We found the entire experience very strange and, quite frankly, somewhat off-putting. The restaurant lost a big $$$ sale, didn't try and replace it, our server lost a bigger tip, and we had no wine with our main course.

I welcome your thoughts on what you would have done in this situation

David McDuff said...

Hi Tom,

Thanks, as always, for your thoughtful and provocative comments. As I mentioned in my post, I tend to favor Balthazar for an early day repast or for afternoon drinks (a glass of vino or pastis and a dish of olives, please) at the bar. In general, I think of it as a casual spot, not a high-service spot. As such, as much as I like the wine list, it's not the first place that comes to mind when I think of splurging on a $100+ bottle, much less a $500ish one.

Regardless of all that... as to your question of what I would have done, that's a big enough issue that it might just get its own post at some point. Any objections?

De Vino said...

Thanks David it was a pleasure as well meeting you. I'm sorry I didn't have enough time to chat more with you, maybe next time you are around we can meet up for some wine and food.

David McDuff said...

Sounds like a plan. I'll look forward to it.

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