Interview with Rick Lopez and Tom Hyland of Gowanus Wine Merchants

Neighborhoods often develop on the merits of a single street. Brooklyn is no exception. Carroll Gardens has Smith Street, Park Slope has Fifth Avenue, and Gowanus, the transitioning neighborhood in between, has Third Avenue. Rick Lopez and Tom Hyland share a love of wine and a passion for Gowanus, a neighborhood they believe is quickly stepping out from the shadows. Their love has been built into a brick and mortar storefront at 493 Third Ave at the corner of 11th Street. They’ve decided to call it Gowanus Wine Merchants. Digest NY dropped by to chat with the guys about their new store, what they expect when Whole Foods opens seven blocks away, and why people are making so much noise about uncommon grape varieties showing up in the wine world.

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Subterranean Restaurant News

When Atera opened in Tribeca in March, Grub Street told us chef Matt Lightner and co were planning to open a bar in the space under the restaurant.  Originally going to be called "The Office," it turns out the name is to be determined.

Plans for the new bar space include a separate kitchen with its own private dining room.  It will provide a place for diners to have coffee and reflect on all the foraged food a multi-course meal at the 17-seat chef's counter puts in their stomachs.

In the West Village, the laundromat space Ed Schoenfeld took over under RedFarm is closer to opening.  In an interview with Paper Mag back in April, Schoenfeld said he'd be taking over the laundromat June 1st.  "It's going to take us a few months to do it over. So by September 1st, middle of August, we'll have that space."


When Wine Gets Weird

Steve Cuozzo's "Sour Grapes" article from a few weeks ago continues to harvest opinions from members of the wine world.  In an article published today called "Wine & Cheesed," he responds to all the flack he's been catching for his opinion about obscure/natural wines.  In it, he mentions Digest NY for a post we did last week called "Steve Cuozzo is Corked."  We may have used the word lunatic.  No hard feelings, Steve!  Flattered by the mention.  Would love to get together over one of Frank Cornelissen's wines, a Hilberg beauty from Langhe, or a Ridge Zin; all all-natural favorites of ours.


Donde Dinner?

Donde Dinner? wants to make your next dining experience an adventure.  So, we'll pick a restaurant and post its address for you every Friday.  The catch is, that's all the information you get.  No name, no type of cuisine, and no Googling! Starting this week we'll be doing things a little differently.  From now on, we're going to reveal the name of the restaurant featured in the previous week's post.

Last week's address:

30 East 13th Street (btwn University and 5th) = Taboonnette

As for tonight, we got a spot for you.  In typical Donde Dinner? fashion, price, quality, and accessibility have all been taken into account.  You won't be waiting at the bar for two hours with $15 cocktails, and since we're not fancy folk, you never have to worry about a dress code.  Put that rumbling belly to rest.  Hop on the train, or your feet, or your bike, and head to one of two locations this restaurant has:

23 East 23rd Street (btwn Madison and Park) OR

620 8th Ave (btwn 40th and 41st)


Danny Bowien's Food Knows How to Work the Camera

If you haven't been to Danny Bowien's San Fran import yet, or seen our First Bite, here's another way to see what's going down at 154 Orchard Street.

Mission Chinese Food has only been on the East Coast for two and a half months, but Bowien's creative vision fuels a constantly evolving menu.  The original 23-item-menu from the early days at the end of May now has 28 options.  You can't get those Lamb Cheek Dumplings in Red Oil or the Tea Smoked Eel anymore, but you can get Red Braised Pigs Tails ($10) and "Married Couple's" Beef ($9). 

The large dishes have seen the most changes, though in typical generous Bowien fashion, nothing exceeds $15.  Kung Pao Pastrami ($11) is not likely to disappear anytime soon.  New additions are Sizzlin Cumin Lamb Breast ($13) and Catfish a la Sichuan ($13).

Don't worry, that free keg of beer is still on offer for those waiting for a table which, in our opinion, is always worth the inevitable wait.


Steve Cuozzo is Corked

Steve Cuozzo wrote an article for The New York Post two weeks ago called "Sour Grapes." He makes three things clear in the article: 1) He has no patience for the lesser-known varietals showing up on wine lists in the city, 2) He hates anything that's not Bordeaux, and 3) He sounds like a lunatic trying to explain why he hates anything that's not Bordeaux. In a single sentence, the schizophrenic rant covers Greek restaurants, iTunes, and Willamette Valley pinot noir.

Cuozzo likes Bordeaux. And despite its rich, full-bodied and tannic profile, he likes to drink it in the middle of summer. Schiava is a perfectly sound, northern Italian grape that would be an exceptional pairing for his "chicken and summer vegetables" craving, but the arrangement of letters in Schiava sends shivers down his spine. Bordeaux is Cuozzo's pacifier and he needs it to put his uninformed nerves down for a nap.

Time's wine critic Eric Asimov responded to Cuozzo's article in today's Dining Section. He poses the question, "Are restaurants obliged to offer something for everybody? Or do they have the right to stay uncompromisingly true to a vision that may strike some as arcane?"

Here's a hypothetical: You need to build a deck. You decide go to Lowe's, or Home Depot. When you get there you find yourself standing in front of a daunting array of lumber choices. You don't cower from the task and go home to write a 600-word, pride-fueled article about the fact that there are too many trees in the world. You stay at Lowe's, or Home Depot, swallow your pride, and talk to the person whose job it is to know the subtleties between Knotty Pine, Tiger Maple, and Red Oak.

Asimov clearly knows how to build a deck. He hits the nail on the head. "The world is dominated by the ordinary and the mass-market. Most restaurants, even in New York City, conform to a mainstream vision of food and wine. For that reason alone we should celebrate the departures, not feel threatened by them." "The enemy isn’t obscure wines or challenging lists," he writes. "It’s fear of wine."


Nicoletta's Goose Egg

If Nicoletta was the first restaurant in Michael White and business partner Ahmass Fakahany's empire there would be no fusilli with octopus and bone marrow.  Nor would there be the rich, delicious Emilia-Romagna-inspired preparations that exist on Lafayette Street at Osteria Morini.  White certainly wouldn't have crossed the Hudson to Jersey and his Altamarea Group's newly signed lease on the Upper East Side would have a John Hancock other than his own.  After reading Pete Wells' goose egg review of Nicoletta, this is the direction it seems Michael White's career would have taken had he not established himself first as the guru of Italian cuisine that he legitimately is.

Nicoletta is the newest addition to White's empire.  It's a pizza place he opened in June on Second Avenue in the East Village that Wells has zero stars for.  As it turns out, the only dishes he recommends are the cucumbers in white balsamic vinegar and the ice cream.  "Mr. White has said he engineered the dough to stand up to the rigors of delivery and reheating with no loss of quality. In that, at least, he has succeeded. Warmed up a day or two later, a Nicoletta crust is just as stiff and bland as when it was fresh from the oven."

Straying from the pizzas doesn't reveal "White’s prodigious talent for cooking Italian food that can make you dizzy with pleasure."  "The insalata mare with clams, mussels, squid and octopus, all as tender as an extension cord, all bathed in a dressing that had no effect on any of it."

White's decade cooking here in New York has found him behind the stoves at six restaurants to be graced by Time's critics.  Fiamma, Alto, L'Impero, Convivio, Marea, and Ai Fiori have tallied 17 stars for the Wisconsin native.  Nicoletta, unfortunately, has none to spare.


Interview with Michele Smith; Wine and Service Director at Brooklyn Fare

Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare didn’t have a liquor license when it opened in 2009.  The early BYOB status, coupled with Chef Cesar Ramirez’s back-to-basics, bright, elegant food, the restaurant quickly became a haven for collectors, wine eccentrics, and anyone looking to eat at one of Brooklyn’s most exciting restaurants.

Michele Smith started working at Brooklyn Fare in the summer of 2010.  She was hired with the intention of building a wine list that would pair with Cesar’s food once the restaurant got its license.  That happened in January this year.  You can’t bring your own booze to 200 Schermerhorn Street anymore, but you can pick from Michele’s wonderfully curated list.

Digest NY recently talked with Michele about putting the list together, her philosophies about wine, and what it’s like to work with the same six people six days a week.

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