Posted on | June 2, 2015
Written by | Patricia Savoie
Americana in Brooklyn; 75 years of Spain in the village; ‘miraculous’ wine in Nolita
Part of New York City’s charm is the way neighborhood identities inescapably draw from both new and old businesses. This is especially true with restaurants and bars, given their (in)famous turnover rate. This month we check out some extreme examples. Sevilla is turning 75 years old soon, while Humboldt & Jackson is about to turn one and Paris-export La Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels is a veritable toddler.
HUMBOLDT & JACKSON
You could guess that this corner building in Williamsburg, with its crumbly concrete exterior and drab shingles, was once an event space. But once past the threshold, the long wooden bar and cozy interior make Humboldt & Jackson—an American Tasting Room as owners Bill Reed and Sam Nahid have named it—welcoming and comfortable.
The food by Reed goes beyond bar snacks. He works mainly with local ingredients. Roasted butternut squash & garlic hummus, beer cheese fondue, rabbit rillette and the chorizo seco from Charlito’s in Queens are all excellent. Hands-down dessert is the classic s’mores.
An American flag flies outside Humboldt & Jackson and the wines and beers and ciders are all American. An Albariño 2013 from Tangent Winery in Edna Valley and a Bordeaux blend 2012 by Boxwood Estate in Middleburg, VA are currently on offer. Tap wines include a Gewürztraminer 2013 from Standing Stone in the Finger Lakes and a Gotham Project Lodi Zinfandel. The 16 bottles and five half bottles feature the sparkling “Sex” rosé from L. Mawby Wines in Michigan ($40), a good Gruner Veltliner by Minimus Wines in Oregon and a Gamay Noir “Silhouette” Chateau Grand Transverse ($40) from MI. By the glass, pours are $5 for a taste, $10 for a glass or $15 for a flight of four.
Says Sam Nahid, “Educating our guests is the cornerstone of my wine philosophy. For example, most people haven’t had a Syrah from Idaho until they come here.” That said, the most popular wines are the Gruet sparkling and the Bridge Lane Merlot from Long Island. Keeping by-the-glass wines all at the same price points “levels the playing field so the wines aren’t competing based on price,” says Nahid. So the guest has “complete freedom to explore and try something new.”
And there still are events. Brooklyn Brewery does a monthly dinner series, and July 4 is the Humboldt & Jackson one-year anniversary bash.
After almost 75 years on the West Village corner of West 4th and Charles Streets, Spanish restaurant Sevilla is thriving. It has always been a neighborhood hang, but now, after receiving a James Beard Foundation “America’s Classic” award in February, it is jammed every night.
Sevilla opened in 1941. Long-time co-owner Jose Lloves (he was once the chef, buying the restaurant in 1972 with his brother) greets you at the door and sees you out when you leave. He says when he got the call from the Beard House, “I thought it was a scam!”
I have been going to Sevilla for about 40 years, and it has not changed. The interior is classic—dark, smoke-stained wood on the walls and ceiling, original, long wooden bar, booths lining the walls where faded oils and heads of bulls hang. I usually will order the house Sangria, as do many other diners. It matches well with the paellas that are Sevilla’s signature dish, or the shrimp or mussels in green sauce. When back recently, I checked the wine list. It is still a loose-leaf notebook with well-thumbed glassine sheet protectors, each holding a page with a different wine. Some have vintages, while others some don’t. Prices are crossed out and written over, or a piece of white tape is placed over the old price and a new one inscribed.
There are five whites by bottle (from $21-$42) and 18 reds ($32-$132). A few “finds” at a recent moment: the 2007 Pesquera Reserva for $132, now about $110 retail; 2006 Marques de Riscal Reserva at $44, which shows up on Wine Searcher in a range of $50 to $110; and the Marqués de Riscal Gran Reserva 1998 for $63, retailing at $41. Even more affordable is the Coto de Imaz Rioja Reserva (no vintage) for $42.50, and a Protos Ribera del Duero at $36.
Sevilla is a fine place to bask in the vibes of an earlier New York and try an older Spanish wine.
LA COMPAGNIE DES VINS SURNATURELS
La Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels moved into a narrow space on Centre Street in Nolita just over a year ago. An American outpost of the Parisian LCVS, this wine bar has become a go-to spot for somms and wine people. (The name is never translated; the “surnaturels” part does not mean “supernatural” but “miraculous.”)
Chefs Armand Arnal (Michelin-starred La Chassagnette in Arles, France) and Tibor Kogler (Telepan) combine their talents to offer dishes beyond wine-bar fare: duck confit, tuna tartare with roasted baby beets, and cassoulet, among others.
Head Sommelier Caleb Ganzer came over from Eleven Madison Park a few months ago. The list was originally created by Wine Director Fabien Suquet, who is from the Languedoc region of France. Sixteen bottles sit in the Enomatic machine behind the bar, dispensing some of the pricier glass pours, such as the Domaine Vico Clos Venturi Vermentino 2012 from Corsica ($16/$75) or the Alvaro Palacios Les Terrasses Priorat 2012 from Spain ($19/$150).
Fourteen pages in the bound book show the expected French offerings; of the 450 wines, about two-thirds are French. Ganzer sees several good values. “Alsatian wines,” he says, “are overlooked.” A Louis Sipp Riesling Grand Cru 2008 ($63) and a Paul Blanck Riesling Grand Cru 2010 ($74) are among them. And there are good values from the Languedoc, such as Domaine des 2 Anes L’Enclos 2012 from Corbieres ($14/$45). He intends to add more wines from New York State.
An interesting twist by-the-glass is the listing of a white and a red “Mystery Wine,” each $15. If the customer can guess the wine, they are rewarded with a bottle of it. At the end of each contest, the wines are posted on Pinterest. Ganzer says there is a winner at least once a month.