Posted on | May 22, 2014
Written by | Patricia Savoie
Tiny West Village restaurants pack diverse lists despite scale challenges
You can pass by without seeing them. The tiny, vest-pocket gems. Perhaps the queen of mini was the now-defunct Chez Brigitte—a walk-in closet on Greenwich Avenue in the West Village. Closed in 2008 after 50 years, it accommodated all of six at the counter; 11 if you count the seats at the shelf on the wall. Sadly, it had no wine list.
Now, a new clutch of tiny tots has sprung up—many, interestingly, in the West Village. Most of them have excellent, well-chosen wine lists, but storage space and pricing are always challenges.
Steps off Greenwich Avenue on 12th St., Wallflower is barely eight months old. But the regional French menu, finely executed by Chef Jared Stafford-Hill, previously with Maison Premiere, keeps its 26 seats turning nightly. And the tiny bar helmed by Xavier Herit, former head bartender at Daniel, is always hopping.
So, how do you offer from 75 to 100 wines in a new place with a thumbnail cellar? Owner Jason Soloway talked about the challenges a small venue faces: “We can’t have a full-time sommelier. We have almost no storage, so we keep about three or four bottles of most wines in stock—more of the most popular. That means we can’t buy in bulk from our distributors, so we pay more per bottle, and that affects prices.”
The list has interesting French choices plus decent Italian, U.S. and even Lebanese selections—the Chateau Musar 2009 at $58 a bottle is a value. Also interesting are the Morey Chassagne—Montrachet 2008 ($78); and some 1999 Burgundies and 1996 California Cabernets.
The legendary Pink Tea Cup had a long run at its first home on Grove Street. Its successor on this tree-lined, quiet street is the French Buvette, which Chef-Owner Jody Williams terms a “gastrothèque”—where people meet for casual food and drink at any time of day. All 50 of them. Space is tight, and your table may barely hold your plates, glasses and utensils.
Dishes like coq au vin, rabbit confit, duck rillettes and brandade take you back to that little French café you found last time you were in Paris.
The wine list is a small, cloth-covered book with maps and drawings. Complemented by the chalkboard drawing of France and Italy on the wall—showing wines from many regions—the list is a snapshot of Ms. Williams’ finds and favorites. There are about 100 wines that change often, with many in the $40-$75 range and 25 by-the-glass/carafe averaging about $16.
“Most wine lists don’t do a disservice to the wines,” says. Williams. “I wanted to create a gorgeous, artful list that was useful. I love cru Beaujolais, and Vacqueyras and the wines from the Charantais.”
Like the new book list at Dead Rabbit (April 2014), this is more than a wine list. It includes pages for “Vins Naturels,” with a Gamay ($45) from natural-wine maker Olivier Cousin; and one for large format bottles like the 3-litre Léoville-Poyferré 2005 ($1080). There’s even a page listing a handful of wines that are made from vines that are 50-70 years old, like the Domaine les Pallières Gigondas 2009 ($77).
Williams thinks that the Sancerre from Hippolyte Reverdy ($16/glass) and the Crémant d’Alsace from Albert Mann ($13/glass) are wonderful values.
On a corner just west of Abingdon Square, this French-American café faces the tranquil streets on two sides. It is the resto-child of young Chef-Owner Jesse Schenker (Le Bernardin, Per Se and The London).
Each dish from Schenker, and his team is an artistic composition—visually stunning. The five-, seven- and 10-course tasting menus ($78, $105, $155) give you a good dip into the menu.
“Storage and temperature control are real challenges,” says Schenker. “I have a 100-square-foot room with seven wine refrigerators on one side and shelves on another.” He keeps from one to three bottles of most wines, and six to 12 of the more popular ones.
The wine list runs just under 150 bottles. A short but varied by-the-glass list includes a sparkler from New Mexico, Domaine Saint-Vincent ($11); and a nicely aged Rioja Reserva, Viña Ardanza 2007 ($16). The main list leads with some fine Austrian wines, with special attention given to Nikolaihof, the oldest estate in Austria —and Biodynamic since 1998.
Chef Schenker has crafted an outstanding collection of 40 white and red Burgundies, most priced in the three figures, of which his pride is a vertical of four white Saint Aubins from Colin-Morey (all under $120). American Pinot Noirs from Russian River, Sonoma Coast and Willamette Valley and selections from Italy, Germany and Spain round out the list.
OK, this one is in the East Village. The 25 seats are always full, with lines out the door for Chef-Owner Gabrielle Hamilton’s elevated “home cooking.” It plays out in fried sweetbreads with bacon and capers, spatchcocked pigeon with parsley vinaigrette and liver toast and whole rabbit.
The wine cellar consists of about 60 bottles, with five nice half-bottle selections and glass options ($11-15). In the halfs, a Gimmonet Champagne NV is $69. Whites are well chosen, with a Marcel Deiss 2009 Muscadet d’Alsace ($59) and a Thalassitis Assyrtiko from Santorini ($51). The Olga Raffault Chinon 2007, a Loire Cabernet Franc, is a great value wine ($15/glass or $54/bottle). Brunchers seem to love the special Bloody Mary menu, with 10 creative choices.