Entries in Terroir (5)

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)