By Jonathan Cristaldi
There are two things I never imagined I would be so happy to see again: a yellow cab and a metrocard. Of course, while living there it was always a love/hate relationship. Desperately seeking a cab home late night after hosting a Noble Rot event, or battling for a seat on the subway after shopping at Wholefoods in Union Square—ah yes, fond, fond memories. But this past August I spent a week with my wife in New York City—this time, as a tourist—and couldn’t have been more thrilled.
Shortly after our permanent departure (back in June of 2012), I made a quick trip back to host a #CabernetDay event, but hadn’t returned since, and for any ex-New Yorker, two years of being away is two years too long.
The trip was purely pleasurable with two simple goals in mind: see as many of our closest friends as possible and eat and drink our way through all the new restaurants and wine bars we’d been hearing about. Since some close compatriots run The Whisk & Ladle Supper Club out of their loft, we took out several birds with one stone (so to speak) and hosted an extended cocktail hour in the middle of our stay, filling the room with great people and dynamite wines, provided by an East Village icon—Keith Beavers—the “East Village Wine Geek” who ran a highly successful wine shop called Alphabet City wines, and is now focused on transforming “In Vino,” a restaurant also in the East Village, into a mecca for Italian food and wine (he just hired a new Exec Chef, straight from Babbo Ristorante).
As far as our food and drink excursions go, here are my top five highlights:
The one thing I cannot find in Los Angeles is a decent “sausage egg and cheese on a bagel.” There isn’t one place in the entire radius of Los Angeles (and San Francisco, sorry!) that seems able to compete with just about any bodega-style breakfast sandwich in NYC. And The Bagel Store, at the corner of Graham Avenue and Metropolitan Avenue in Brooklyn, has ‘em all beat. This tiny shop, next to an ancient Chinese take-out place, churns out the tastiest bagels east of the Mississippi–the highlight is their whole-wheat everything bagel, which is soft and loaded with poppy seeds, sesame seeds, onion flakes, oats, on and on—get it toasted with sausage, egg and cheese. I’ve had dreams where this sandwich plays the leading roll in some ethereal heavenly afterworld—and only the bagel gods know where the sausage comes from, but who cares, because it’s divine.
If Willy Wonka stopped you on the street and said that he would hand over all his fortunes, his chocolate factory and all his assets, if you would agree to eat only one kind of chocolate for the rest of your life (and that chocolate happened to be Fine & Raw), I would say take him up on the offer! (Honestly, take him up even if he says “Russell Stovers,” I mean, come on!) But seriously, Daniel Sklaar, the master-choco-fiend behind this coveted Bushwick-Brooklyn-based chocolate factory is churning out bon-bons and choco bars that taste as good as Coke probably tasted when people tried it for the first time. So, am I suggesting that Daniel has reinvented chocolate and that you haven’t tasted the power of chocolate until you’ve tasted his caocao-fueled-gold? Yes. And if you think that’s a tall order, seek out some Fine & Raw and send me a letter of apology for being a doubter. One trick to Daniel’s sweet escapades is use of coconut as a sweetener (for some of the chocolates), specific temperatures that maintain the “raw” elements, and a slew of other highly coveted bells and whistles that make this entirely worth getting on the L train and riding it a short ride out to Morgan Ave (I’m talking to you people who “refuse” to leave “Manhattan.” Do it.)
No matter where you call home, following Vine Wine’s Instagram feed will help harbor a sense of community, albeit a wine-fueled community based in the ultra-hip Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, but hey: we live in a world where distance is merely a perception of reality. Their daily chalkboards, curated by Tanner Walle (the GM, formerly from Terroir East Village), are as riveting as the wine selection. With some of the best, small production offerings from California’s Central Coast, and the west-coast in general, matched only by a brilliant lineup of European organic, biodynamic and all-around kick-ass producers, this little wine shop is so utterly dialed into the cool kids on the wine block, it would be a shame to pass up a visit.
That’s Nick Bennett on the left. He’s the bar captain at Booker & Dax, the Momofuku Empire den of cocktail magic. Bennett also happens to be the Thrillist Hamptons edition Editor and I’ve known him for 14 years. Yikes. He’s had the stash just about that long. We did lunch the right way, by going to Ippudo East Village for Ramen. It was exceptional, and there was much green tea and yelling, but the richness of the Ramen broth, augmented by succulent pork and a menagerie of spices (which paired superbly well with Japanese beer) left us all on an MSG high, which carried us to a pleasant walk on the Highline—one item to check off the bucket list for every tourist.
At Pearl & Ash, the wine program is overseen by Patrick Cappiello, who has put together a list that will please everyone, from millennials with a keen wine passion, to the average connoisseur who knows little to nothing about that production side of wine, while also catering to seasoned buffs, both rolling in it and looking for a killer wine at a steal. The food is umami-rich, confounding and meant for sharing—however, the menu is full of such brilliantly prepared and well-seasoned food, I say skip the socialist process and order for yourself. From a raw fluke dish with almonds and chervil and pork meatballs with shiitake, bonito and soppressata to duck and cauliflower with hazelnuts and shishito, the cuisine is masterful, artful and worth gushing over.
A global wine list, 70+ pages, is full of rare vintage gems and my current favorite category: sublime small-production whites from California. I was insanely happy and surprised to see two wines, which we ordered: Liquid Farm 2012 “White Hill” Chardonnay from Sta. Rita Hills and Jolie-Laide 2013 Trousseau Gris from "Fanucchi-Wood Road" in the Russian River Valley. We started with the Liquid Farm and ended with the Jolie-Laide and later, Patrick, offered a taste of an exquisite Burgundy (I think) from 1995 (I believe), he happened to have open --- either way, I’m ashamed not to have snapped a photo of it, but can tell you, it was tasty and left us with that veritable “icing on the cake” experience.
I had heard such good things, and was so impressed—they definitely earned their spot as one of 21 Best Wine Bars around the country (an article I wrote, recently published on Thrillist.com).
On the recommendation of Jeff Taylor, the Sommelier at Betony and formerly from Eleven Madison Park, we stopped off at Pouring Ribbons in the east village for a vintage-chartreuse nightcap. Upon arrival, a bouncer (which we scoffed at as being ridiculous for the east village) actually was helping keep the occupancy well below the max, and thankfully so—because I spent $40 on one ounce of vintage Chartreuse, and frankly, couldn't have been more pleased—it was elegant and smooth, full of pretty floral and fruit notes under earthy and anise character—way more complex than I imagined and such a classy nightcap!
The inevitable return to Los Angeles was easier than I had anticipated. The day we left, that infamous east-coast humidity reared its ugly head, climbing to such dizzying heights that the mere glancing around elicited a sweat-storm unlike any I have experienced in over two years. And, knowing that the temperature will hold strong in the 80s for the next few weeks (here in L.A.), while temps will start to decline towards an icy, blistery, wind-driven winter, makes me happy to have made the move. New York will always attract up-and-comers looking to open the next best thing in the beverage industry landscape of wine bars, craft cocktail houses and craft beer bars—so it’s great to visit and revel in the excitement.
All the Swirl is a collections of thoughts and opinions assembled by the staff and industry friends of Charles Communications Associates, a marketing communications firm with its headquarters in San Francisco, California. We invite you to explore more about our company and clients by visiting www.charlescomm.com.