Here, the wine comes first. Diners select their bottle or glass from a list of 50 options divided into nine categories like white-light, red-medium, and red-full, before they see the dinner menu.
I checked multiple news stories, to make sure one website didn’t get it wrong. Sure enough, all the pre-opening publicity describes it that way.
Nevertheless, this is not what the restaurant does. When you sit down in the quiet subterranean dining room, the staff distributes both the food and wine menu. You are not told to choose the wine first, and food afterward.
Vestiges of the original concept remain. On the wine list, the reds and whites are sub-divided into light, medium, and full, with descriptive headings like “dry, powerful, flavorful, and intense,” and followed by a list of “suggested pairings.” Hence, you are invited to think about foods that pair with a particular class of wines, rather than the opposite. This isn’t entirely practical, as the list of dishes in the printed menu doesn’t quite agree with the separately printed food menu. Here lies the path to confusion.
There are fifty bottles on the list, and all are available by glass—even the $2,000 Masseto or the $600 Sassicaia. The staff use the Coravin liberally (that’s the device that can pour from wine bottles without uncorking them), even on inexpensive names that wouldn’t seem to call for it. There’s plenty at the lower end, for those who prefer it: a 2011 Sangiovese (left) was $40.
A serious chef is in charge: Davide Scabin of Combal.Zero, a Michelin two-star restaurant in Torino, Italy. He is not moving here permanently, and the publicity does not suggest how often the menu will change—if ever. For now, the the staff left behind is executing his concept with skill and precision.
The menu offers thirteen dishes, each available in three sizes: $18, $32, $45. The prices don’t change, whether you’re ordering a salad or rack of lamb. To figure out how much food is enough, you’re totally dependent on the server to help you wade through the thicket of options. You are more likely to over-order than not. I’ll bet you already guessed that.
Every meal begins with cheese imported from Italy (above left) and focaccia with a soft, whipped spread (above right).
The humble Skyline Insalata (above) turns out to be one of the best salads of the year: Tuscan pâté, anchovies, garlic, and “all the fresh vegetables we found at the market today.” The portion shown above is a medium ($32).
If you want the Bombolone Cacio e Peppe (above left), a party of two pretty much has to order the medium, as each serving is self-contained: a “pasta doughnut” filled with pecorino cheese and blackpepper cream.
The Polpetta “burger” (above right) isn’t much of a burger at all. (The word “burger” appears on the wine list and the bill, but not the printed menu.) It’s a flattened meat ball with blue cheese, endive, fresh oregano, and an undisclosed sauce. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s a dish still deciding what it wants to be.
Egg tagliatelle Bolognese (above left) is perhaps the most conventional dish on the menu, allegedly slow-cooked for six hours, but not really better for it than other Bogloneses in town. Dessert was clever and memorable: the “Tribute to Manhattan” peanut butter cheesecake with blueberry jelly ($12; above right). By all means order this.
The restaurant was perhaps a quarter or a third full on a Wednesday evening. The room is a pleasant place to be, the servers helpful and attentive. On the whole, this food is pretty good. If only the concept didn’t get in the way.
Mulino a Vino (337 W. 14th Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues, Chelsea)
Food: Modern Italian
Service: Helpful, and you need it, due to the confusing menu format
Ambiance: A quiet, comfortable, subterranean dining room