Sunday, July 19, 2009

Cellar 58, East Village, July 18

New York City night life scenes change constantly, as all who live here know. Restaurants come and go, bars open and close, and new venues flicker about the neighborhoods; at times, it is hard to keep track of which destinations are still, in fact, destinations at all, and which ones have just become vacant lots for lease. Just yesterday afternoon, Lyndsey and I went to a barbecue place we heard was stupendous, only to find that it was closed for good. On the other hand, this also means that there are constantly new locations to visit, more excellent food to try, and a nightlife that we can reinvent any way we please, every weekend.

As a result, I embarked on a "foodie discovery" mission last night while walking around near 2nd Ave. and E 4th St., after spending the earlier part of the evening catching up with a friend. Normally if I visit this area, I go to Wine Bar, which is a perennial favorite. Because I was on the prowl for new spots, however, I decided against, and instead moseyed right across the street to Cellar 58!

I was immediately welcomed with grand enthusiasm at the door by the owner. She was not only hospitable and friendly, but also exuded an earnest desire for her guests to enjoy their food and wine. Italian exchanges between staff, phenomenal music, and perfect lighting complement a great wine list and what looks to be a delicious menu, making Cellar 58 a solid response to Wine Bar and a distinct presence on the street. Instead of Wine Bar's "date spot" atmosphere, Cellar 58 remains warm and sophisticated while also adding a touch of rusticity that I found really comfortable - the wood tones, oddly evocative (provocative?) artwork, and again, that low lighting that defines my favorite New York establishments. With this many things going right on only their third day running (they opened Thursday)... outdoor seating was the only thing I saw missing, and that is apparently on the way.

I ordered two glasses of wine from the wonderful girl at the bar, a Sauvignon Blanc and a Pecorino, both by the same Italian producer, both $7 a glass. The Sauvignon Blanc was an interesting transplant, lacking the minerality and whipcrack acidity of a Sancerre and also missing the exuberant tropical fruit and grassy character of a New Zealand Sauvignon, but was still quite tasty. Straw gold in the glass, slight herbal notes paired to citrus zest, with more citrus fruit in the mouth; some crisp acidity, but also a strange quality I can only compare to the unique spiciness of a Gewürztraminer. Medium finish.

The Pecorino, on the other hand, was truly different. Two major phrases that come to mind now are "cat pee" and "foxy" - both in a good way. It was a deeper gold in the glass than the Sauvignon, and had lemon-lime fruit on the nose with a hints of ginger and nuttiness, leading to a full-bodied, well-balanced wine effuse with foxy fruity character, more hazelnut notes and a touch of mineral in the medium finish. It was actually a challenging wine the first time around. Overall a pleasure.

Pecorino merits an aside. The grape was brought back from the brink of extinction when it was rediscovered growing in the wild in the Marche region; it was already known in the wine world, but thought long extinct. Local growers initiated a movement to reconstitute this grape's presence in the wine world, and now numerous good examples can be found. Farmers apparently noticed that sheep liked to munch on it on their way to pasture; thus the grape's name, according to one popular story. Wines made from Pecorino are produced in Marche, Ambruzzo, and Umbria, among other regions. I would pair this wine with soft cheeses - particularly goat cheese, and white fish dishes like halibut sautéed in olive oil, lemon juice and (of course) white wine.

Anyhow! Go to Cellar 58. It's at 58 Second Avenue between 3rd and 4th St. I enjoyed myself there, as I imagine most people will.


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