Entries in Paul Grieco (8)

Thursday
Apr152010

First Look: Terroir Tribeca

Terroir Tribeca opened last night, the west side sibling to the East Village wine bar that was an instant classic two years ago, and remains so today. We’ve visited the original Terroir twice (reviews here & here), and would’ve gone more often if it wasn’t on the opposite side of town. With a Terroir three blocks from work, that problem is now solved.

Terroir Tribeca is twice the size of its older sister, a bit nicer looking, and has about quadruple the kitchen space. The concept, however, is the same. If you’re one of the few people who didn’t like Terroir (ahem, Robert Sietsema), you won’t like Terroir Tribeca either.

Much of the credit goes to Paul Grieco, the mad scientist of sommeliers, whose wine lists are as fun to read as a Joseph Heller novel. The man knows his wine, loves to talk about it, and sells it at prices that make you want to try. There are bottles, of course, and everything on the by-the-glass list is available in either half or full pours.

Grieco’s partner, Marco Canora, supervises the food program. The menu is an expanded version of the East Village Terroir. The categories are the same (bar snacks, “fried stuff,” charcuterie, cheese, panini, salads, etc.); there’s just more of everything. I suspect that the larger kitchen will give them the chance to broaden the menu eventually. For the opening, they have hewed to their already proven concept.

My eye drifted first to the “Fried Stuff.” Funky Beef Balls ($7; above left) were heavily seasoned flavor bombs of aged Creekstone Farms beef. Sage Leaves with Lamb Sausage ($7; above right) were even better.

I had brief tastes of a couple other items that I liked a bit less, the “Disc O’ Pig” and the “Bacalla Balls” (there is clearly an obsession with circular and spherical objects here). All are designed for sharing, and that is a wise thing. If there’s any criticism of this food, it’s the lack of variety. After two heavy deep-fried dishes, you might be in danger of falling into a salt coma.

I was ready for a change of pace, which Orangey Beets ($4; above left) supplied. I then went back to the fried stuff, with the Beet Gorgonzola Risotto Balls ($7; above right). They don’t look like much on the outside, but they’re fantastic.

Grieco and Canora have seeded Terroir Tribeca with staff from the East Village, so it’s no surprise that service was much smoother than the typical opening night, even though the bar was packed to the rafters by 7:00 p.m. Actually, I can report only one minor glitch—getting charged for a full glass of wine when I was quite sure I had only half. I ordered about five or six half-glasses, and all the others were billed correctly.

Terroir Tribeca is launched, and I suspect it’ll be one heck of an enjoyable ride.

Terroir Tribeca (24 Harrison Street, east of Greenwich Street, Tribeca)

Sunday
Jan112009

Terroir

 

I dropped by Terroir the other night to taste the pork blade steak that Frank Bruni has been raving about. He rated it one of the top ten dishes of 2008.

He’s right—up to a point. The steak, just $17, is a pig shoulder, cut thin, broiled on high heat, and lightly seasoned. Unlike Bruni, I saw no need to dump arugula and parmesan on top. The intense porky flavor never wore out on me, even though consuming this beast is a major project.

The server’s suggested wine pairing, a 2005 Merlot from Shinn Estate Vinyards on Long Island ($11.50/gl.), was as provocative as it was successful.

My last visit to Terroir was on opening night, in March 2008. Since then, the wine list has expanded, and it’s full of sommelier Paul Grieco’s signature wit. If you’re alone, it can take the place of a dinner companion.

The only trouble with Terroir is getting in. When I arrived at about 7:00 p.m. on a Friday night, I snagged the last stool available at the bar. By the time I left, the server was quoting about 15–20 minute waits for parties of two.

Although the space is perpetually full, the servers provide plenty of attention. Most people seemed to be there to drink. The chef, who occupies a cramped corner in the back of the restaurant, wasn’t working up much of a sweat. But everything she was asked to produce looked wonderful.

There’s a lot of Terroir left to try.

Terroir (413 E. 12th Street east of First Avenue, East Village)

Food: *
Wine: **
Service: *
Ambiance: *
Overall: *

Wednesday
Jun252008

The Payoff: Gottino and Terroir

In today’s Times, Frank Bruni hands out a pair of one-star cupcakes to Gottino and Terroir, two fine restaurants masquerading as wine bars:

Both are trawling an easygoing confluence of Italian soul and finger food. And they’re reeling in enough— both menus have dozens of options beyond salumi and cheese — to force the question, are Terroir and Gottino restaurants in wine-bar drag?

Ms. Williams seems terrified by that notion. On the phone recently she caught herself using the words lunch and dinner and quickly reversed course, saying she didn’t want customers looking to Gottino for an actual meal.

“Just squeeze in, eat and drink, because it’s not a restaurant,” she said. “I don’t want people to have restaurant expectations. But if I tell people just to squeeze in, eat and drink, it’ll all be O.K.”

Since the “Restaurants” column doesn’t normally review wine bars, we figured Bruni would choose two that he liked. He acknowledged the “very real limitations and discomforts of both Gottino and Terroir, where space is tight, the mood is agitated, reservations aren’t accepted and you could easily wind up standing and waiting 45 minutes for the privilege of straddling a stool.” Also, “overall dining experiences are abbreviated, and not suited to many occasions.”

But make no mistake about it: Gottino and Terroir are those rare establishments that could be happy about a one-star review. Most likely, they were designed with no expectation of a starred Times review at all. It helps that both lend credence to Frank’s favorite meme, namely, “the increasing degree to which distinguished cooking pops up in the unconventional, informal settings that many food lovers often prefer.” Their menus are “unfussy compendia,” and they don’t “play by mustier rules.”

It also helps that both are Italian, which is always a guarantee of Frank’s attention—though not necessarily his love.

We took the one-star odds on both restaurants. On hypothetical bets of $1, we win $3 at Gottino and $2 at Terroir for a total of $5. Eater, which predicted zero and one star respectively, loses $1 at Gottino and wins $2 at Terroir, for a net of $1.

              Eater          NYJ
Bankroll $90.50   $110.67
Gain/Loss +1.00   +5.00
Total $91.50   $115.67
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Won–Lost 42–20   45–17
Tuesday
Jun242008

Rolling the Dice: Gottino and Terroir

Every week, we take our turn with Lady Luck on the BruniBetting odds as posted by Eater. Just for kicks, we track Eater’s bet too, and see who is better at guessing what the unpredictable Bruni will do. We track our sins with an imaginary $1 bet every week.

The Line: Tomorrow, Frank Bruni files a wine-bar twofer, looking in on Terroir (East Village) and Gottino (West Village). The Eater oddsmakers have set the action as follows (√√ denotes the Eater bet):

     Gottino
Zero Stars: 2-1
√√
One Star: 3-1
Two Stars: 6-1
Three Stars: 50-1
Four Stars: 10,000-1

     Terroir
Zero Stars: 4-1
One Star: 2-1
√√
Two Stars: 4-1
Three Stars: 50-1
Four Stars: 10,000-1

The Skinny: We bettors are out of our element today, as neither of these is a traditional review target. It’s not even clear what the star system means when applied to a wine bar. But His Frankness has chosen them, so we’ll place our bets.

In our view, one star is the floor for both of these places. Bruni doesn’t normally review wine bars at all. With so many to choose from, why waste space on one he doesn’t like? The question is, could either of them get two?

At Gottino, the chef is Jody Williams. Her last experience with the star system is one she’d rather forget: a one-star hazing at Morandi that read like zero. (She has since left the restaurant.) We don’t think Bruni will pick on her again. Besides, the other critics have actually liked Gottino, including the Underground Gourmet for New York (three hollow stars out of five), Jacqui Gal for MetroMix (3½ stars out of five), and Robert Sietsema for the Village Voice.

Terroir is the work of two really smart guys, Marco Canora and Paul Grieco, who have two terrific restaurants already to their credit, Hearth and Insieme. Here as well, the reviews have been positive, including Ed Levine at Serious Eats and Paul Adams for The Sun. We liked it too, though our visit was on opening night, so we didn’t assign a rating.

The ceiling for Terroir is set by Canora and Grieco’s other two restaurants. Bruni awarded two stars to the more ambitious Insieme, while Amanda Hesser did the same for Hearth, which actually actually supplies many of the items that Terroir’s non-existent kitchen can’t produce itself. Terroir is lots of fun, but unless Frank is crazy it has to be a star lower than the other two places.

With Gottino, we have less to go on, but we’re having trouble imagining what a two-star wine bar would be like.

The Bet: We are betting that Frank Bruni will award one star apiece to Gottino and Terroir.

Wednesday
Mar052008

First Look: Terroir

terroir_inside.jpg

Note: Click here for a later visit to Terroir.

It takes a lot to draw me over to First Avenue on a weeknight, which is about as far out of my commuting path as I could get without leaving Manhattan. But when I heard that sommelier Paul Grieco (Hearth, Insieme) was opening a new wine bar, I had to give it a try.

It’s called Terroir, for the French word that describes the “sense of place” that gives each wine its personality. Grieco’s partner, Marco Canora, is in charge of the food, which includes several favorites from his tenure at Craftbar, and other snacks that go well with the informal bar setting. There isn’t much of a kitchen in the tiny space at Terroir, but a lot of the food comes from Hearth, which is just 30 yards down the street.

The vibe is very East Village-y, including the gentle price point. There are over twenty wines offered by the glass, from just $5 to $19, with many at $10 or less. All are also offered by the half-glass. The variety is hard to characterize, but rest assured anything Paul Grieco offers will be compelling.

The wine list at Hearth is famously verbose, but for now the much smaller list at Terroir is limited to the bare facts. “There’s not much literature in it yet,” Grieco said. “Right now, it’s like an e. e. cummings poem.” I suspect it won’t be that way for long.

The food menu fits on one page: bar snacks ($4–5, or 6 for $22); fried stuff ($7); salads ($7–8); bruschetta ($6–7); charcuterie ($4–5, or assortment $21); cheese ($3.50, or 6 for $20); soup ($8); panini ($9) and large plates ($15), with generally four or five choices in each category. The large plates include such choices as veal & ricotta meatballs, braised duck leg, sausage, and broiled sardines.

terroir01.jpg

I ordered the charcuterie assortment ($21), which came with about nine different kinds of hand-cut meats (which is more than I saw listed individually on the menu), a terrific pork terrine, and sliced bread. Canora explained each one, but I won’t attempt to duplicate his descriptions.

I asked Grieco to pair wines with it. He chose a contrasting white from southern Italy and a red from France; for both, he opened a fresh bottle and gave me a small taste before pouring a glass. I was charged half-glass prices ($4.00/$4.75) for what seemed to me generous pours. They were wonderful choices, as I have come to expect from anything Grieco recommends.

The small space was full, but I had no trouble getting a bar stool after about five minutes’ wait. This being opening night, a lot of the customers were friends of the owners, stopping in to say hello. For such a small space, it seemed to be well staffed, with everyone pitching in: Canora cleared plates; Grieco dried glassware.

Now that Canora and Grieco have three restaurants, there is one problem: I don’t know where Grieco will be. I trust that the kitchens can execute Canora’s cuisine in his absence, but who will be there to recommend wines? Wherever Grieco is working on any given day, that’s where I want to dine.

Terroir (413 E. 12th Street east of First Avenue, East Village)

Tuesday
May012007

Insieme

insieme_inside.jpg

Note: Marco Canora and Paul Grieco left Insieme in September 2009. As of December 2010, the new chef is Andrés Julian Grundy. As of January 2011, the restaurant was closed—except for breakfast.

*

When Marco Canora and Paul Grieco opened Hearth in 2003, it was an immediate sensation in foodie community. Canora had been the executive chef at the much-loved Craft, and Hearth was his first solo venture. It won an enthusiastic two stars from Amanda Hesser in the Times, and has been on a roll ever since. I’ve visited Hearth twice, awarding 2½ stars after my most recent visit.

Canora and Grieco are back with an encore: Insieme, which means “together” in Italian. It’s bound to be the most mispronounced restaurant name in Manhattan. (For the record, it’s “in-see-EM-ay.”)

A new restaurant from this team was bound to attract attention. It took Gourmet’s Ruth Reichl only a week to pronounce that Insieme was serving the best lasagne in New York. The bloggers will no doubt come trooping briskly; there’s already a rave on Off the Broiler.

Insieme is located in the Michelangelo Hotel. Frankly, the style of the restaurant clashes with the style of the hotel, but that probably won’t matter: Insieme has its own entrance on Seventh Avenue. It’s actually a bit of a challenge to find the restaurant from inside the hotel. Located at the northern end of the theater district, it should draw on the pre- and post-show crowds. But it’s close enough to the midtown business district to draw on the same clientele that patronizes Le Bernardin, just across the street.

The cuisine has a more upscale feel to it than Hearth. The menu (PDF here) is on two facing pages. On the left are traditional Italian favorites, written in Italian with English translations. On the right are modern versions of the same or similar dishes, with the descriptions only in English. Each side has four antipasti ($12–18), three primi/mid-courses ($14–16) and four secondi/entrées ($29–36). Most of the primi are also available in entrée-sized portions for $26. Side dishes are $9. A five-course tasting menu is $85.

insieme01.jpg
Hors d’oeuvres

After we arrived, the kitchen sent out a wonderful plate of hors-d’oeuvres. Radishes were hollowed out, and stuffed with olives and anchovies. Crostini were topped with goat cheese. Fresh baked rolls came out, with a helping of soft, creamy butter.

insieme02a.jpginsieme02b.jpg
Egg-drop soup (left); Black olive fettuccini (right)

The amuse-bouche was an intense egg-drop soup in a beef and chicken broth. To start, I had the Black Olive Fettuccini ($16), with duck ragu and a hint of foie gras. Although wonderful, I thought the portion size was a mite too small, even allowing that it was an appetizer. My girlfriend had the Lasagne Verdi Bolognese ($16), which is surely the dish Ruth Reichl raved about. Made with spinach noodles, it had an astonishingly light texture.

insieme03.jpg
Lamb chop, saddle, breast, sausage with lavender, spring garlic, morels, and mustard greens

insieme04.jpg
Fagioli all’ Uccelletto

We were both drawn to an entrée titled simply “Lamb” ($36), featuring four renditions of lamb: chop, saddle, breast, and sausage. “Breast” is an unusual description for any part of lamb, but I’m assuming it referred to the tender lamb belly (nine o’clock in the photo). The chop and saddle were both impeccably prepared. I was not wowed by the sausage, which seemed to have been stuffed inside of morel mushrooms, and didn’t have enough spicy kick.

A side dish of Fagioli all’ Uccelletto ($8), or Cannellini beans, tomato, garlic, and sage, was terrific. In less accomplished hands, the tomato base would overwhelm the beans, but Marco Canora’s kitchen had the balance just right.

insieme05.jpg
Baba au Rhum
 
insieme06.jpg
Petits-fours
 
insieme07.jpg
Whistler “The Black Piper” G.S.M. 2005
For dessert, we shared the Baba au Rhum ($10), an unlikely dish in an Italian restaurant, but still well worth a try. I can’t say that it eclipsed the legendary rendition of this dish at Alain Ducasse, but that would be an unfair comparison.

The evening ended with petits-fours, all excellent, particularly the chocolate truffle in the middle of the photo.

The wine list is a work in progress. At the moment, it’s neither as long nor as interesting as the wine list at Hearth, but with Paul Grieco in charge of both, you can be sure that won’t last. Grieco himself came over to our table, and offered to assist. After a discussion, his advice confirmed the choice I was already leaning to anyway: the Whistler 2005 Black Piper ($47), a fruity Grenache–Shiraz–Mourvedre blend. We loved it so much that I brought the label home.

Service throughout the evening was first-rate. When I arrived, the maitre d’ alertly noticed that our original table was too close to a baby in a high chair. Without prompting, he offered to move us.

The dining room was never more than about half full. It cleared out considerably after 7:30, as the pre-theater crowd headed out. It started to fill up again around 9:00 p.m. I suspect that will be the rhythm of this place. I overheard Chef Canora telling a friend that the restaurant will stay open until 11:00 p.m. on weekdays, 11:30 p.m. on weekends. It’s an experiment to try to attract a post-theater crowd, and Canora didn’t sound positive that it would work. (Hearth closes at 10:00 p.m. on weekdays, 11:00 p.m. on weekends.)

It’s clear that Canora is trying to pitch Insieme at a higher level than Hearth. It’s about $10 per person more expensive, and the décor feels more elegant. Yet, Canora was obviously wary of getting too fancy, given that the city’s major critics tend to hold that against a restaurant. There are no tablecloths, and the tables are crammed rather close together.

It’s a familiar vibe that feels very much like two other recent successes, Perry St. and A Voce. But Insieme seems more sincere, and also more fun, than either of those two restaurants. At Perry St., Jean-Georges Vongerichten, the nominal man-in-charge, is too busy running 10 or 15 other restaurants to give the place more than passing attention. And at A Voce we found the service and ambiance seriously annoying.

And the best part of it is that Insieme is only two weeks old. It can only get better from here.

Insieme (777 Seventh Avenue at 51st Street, West Midtown/Theater District)

Food: **½
Service: ***
Ambiance: **
Overall: **½

Thursday
Nov302006

Hearth

hearth.jpgMy first visit to Hearth was a couple of years ago. My enthusiasm fell short of the rapture on the food boards, and the restaurant wasn’t high on my list for a return visit. The rapturous comments never died down, so last night I thought it was about time I gave Hearth another look. Boy, am I glad I did.

My mom and I decided to order different things and swap plates, so each of us had a taste of two appetizers and two entrees. To start, I ordered the Snapper Crudo ($12). Five small pieces of snapper were topped with lemon, red pepper and rosemary. Amanda Hesser, in her 2004 review for the Times, complained there was “lots of flavor, none from the snapper.” Perhaps they’ve improved the dish, or Hesser doesn’t understand crudo. I thought it offered a well judged mix of contrasting flavors.

Having said that, if you’d like something more tangy, go for the Grilled Sardines ($13). My mom found the sardines slightly fishy, but I really enjoyed their crunchy warm exterior mixed with the accompanying salad of crosnes, black radish, raisins, and pine nuts.

The most expensive entree is the Braised and Roasted Domestic Lamb ($33), with lamb sausage, squash, and chanterelle mushrooms. It also might be one of the best lamb dishes in the city. Three tender medallions of lamb loin come with a strip of braised lamb shank so tender that the bone is nearly liquefied. The sausage is terrific. We also tried the pork belly, a special not on the printed menu ($28). This came with two ample squares of crisp pork belly.

My mom and I debated whether the lamb or the pork belly was better. We each slightly preferred the one we had started with—the lamb in my case, the pork in hers, but we agreed that both dishes were excellent. We hadn’t planned it this way, but it turns out we ordered the same dishes at Blue Hill three weeks ago: pork and lamb. Hearth did a better job at both, and Hearth also had the better appetizers.

Hearth also has a much better wine program than Blue Hill. It might be one of the better wine programs in the city, short of the four-star and a handful of the top three-star restaurants. Co-owner Paul Grieco, a former beverage director at Gramercy Tavern, has a lot to say about his wines, and he’s not shy about it. Many of the wine list’s 33 pages come with their own mini-lecture. One page has five paragraphs about a single $85 bottle. Other pages compare various wines to Tom Cruise, Brittney Spears, Ann Coulter, Wayne Gretzky, and even former U. S. Senator Jesse Helms. I am not sure who really has the time to read all of this during dinner, but when all the talking is over with, Grieco has a great wine list—a tad pricy for this type of restaurant, but lots of fun. We settled on a cabernet franc at $47 (Les Picasses, Olga Raffault, 2002), and I was sorry the bottle wasn’t bottomless.

Service was a little slow. I didn’t put them on a clock, but it seemed we were left with menus in our hands for quite a while before anyone came over to speak to us. (The menu is a single loose sheet of placemat-sized paper; surely they could do better than that.) Only then were we told about the off-menu pork belly special, after we’d already been pondering our choices for quite a while. The server then disappeared for another long interval so that we could ponder the pork belly option. Luckily, we had that long wine list to read. At some point, the server dropped off the amuse bouche, a shooter of delicious hot parsnip soup. But it was another long interval, and we still hadn’t ordered. Anyhow, once orders were taken, the rest of the service proceeded at a decent pace.

The ambiance at Hearth is casual, with wooden tables, exposed brick, and a ceiling painted a peculiar shade of burnt red. There is no actual hearth visible, but the name is appropriate for its suggestion of home comfort, which Hearth provides. It’s the perfect setting for Marco Canora’s excellent cuisine, which I look forward to sampling again soon.

Hearth (403 E. 12th Street at First Avenue, East Village)

Food: ***
Service: *½
Ambiance: **
Overall: **½

Monday
Dec192005

Hearth

Note: Click here for a more recent (and more favorable) report on Hearth.

I post this review with some trepidation. The foodie community loves Hearth. I had dinner there in early October with two collegues, and was underwhelmed. I ordered:

FOIE GRAS TORCHON ($18)
with Endive, Mission Figs, and Brioche Toast

STEAMED BLACK BASS ($27)
Heirloom Tomatoes, Leeks and Fine Herbs

The foie gras was extremely bland (I enjoyed the toast more), and the bass practically devoid of taste. The bread service was also a disappointment (tasted stale; the butter wasn’t spreadable).

My colleagues did enjoy their meals, so perhaps I just ordered the wrong things.

Hearth (403 E. 12th Street at First Avenue, East Village)

Food: *
Service: *½
Ambiance: *½
Overall: *