It’s not exactly news that most wine bars these days have deep enough menus to serve you a full meal. So now comes Tolani Wine Restaurant, standing astride the borderline between a bar and a full-service dining room.
The website is desperately in need of an editor, but it at least explains the philosophy, if not exactly elegantly:
The space at Tolani was imagined and created into two distinct divides – the upstairs is a semi-casual bar meets lounge, while the downstairs lends itself to the fine-dining experience.
There is too much self-congratulation in the pitch:
“Tolani” means “too good,” and that is exactly what this UWS gem is – an unpretentious spot of which you simply can’t get enough. Drawing from the very best flavors, techniques and ingredients from each corner of the world, Tolani Wine Restaurant’s menu brings a culinary adventure to your backyard, marrying authenticity with ingenuity.
Filled with small to medium sized plates meant to be shared, the menu is best experienced as a journey around the world. Start in Greece with a grilled octopus salad, hop over to the West Indies with goat curry and mango, shoot over to the Maghreb for a duck pastilla and shoot pea salad, enjoy a T-bone cooked Brazilian-style or perhaps a Thai Green Papaya and cucumber salad with crisp rice peanut sauce.
The menu’s inventiveness is representative of the eclectic group of people who dreamt and built Tolani into existence.
The décor screams “date place.” It’s warm, low-lit, and comfortable. Wines are mostly $30–80 a bottle, with twenty selections by the glass. We ordered a $36 Portuguese wine from Dao, one of the better values we’ve had lately.
The chefs are a couple of Picholine graduates. Craig Hopson of Le Cirque is consulting, while David Rotter runs the kitchen full-time. Their work isn’t very impressive. The menu features the comfort foods of about 20 different nations. When a chef purports to master so many different styles, it’s a sure bet the results won’t be great.
Robiola Cheese ($11; above left) with orange honey was the most enjoyable item. Tuna Tartare ($16; above right) with blood orange, fennel, and avocado, was forgettable.
(Please forgive our camera fail.)
Pasta Carbonara ($17; above left) and Greek Octopus Salad ($17; above right) tasted flat and under-seasoned.
Cuban Style Pork Loin ($17; above left) was over-cooked and dry. A Giant Meatball ($11; above right) – described thus on the menu – was just fine, but you could have made it at home.
The menu is in two sections, cold and hot, with sharing plates ranging from $9–26. The server recommended three per person, which was one or two more than we needed. Even after we specifically asked that the dishes not come out too quickly, the kitchen insisted on sending them out in pairs.
Aside from that, the service was good, and we especially appreciated having our wine decanted.
The bill came to $124 before tax and tip, which seemed high for such mediocre food. If I lived in the area, I’d love to stop in again for some wine, but I wouldn’t bother having dinner here.
Tolani Wine Restaurant (410 Amsterdam Avenue between 79th & 80th Streets, Upper West Side)
Food: no stars