Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Wine bars as far as the eye can see

We live in a world profligate with wine bars, we New Yorkers. Wine bars and pseudo-beer gardens. This is where we drink it seems. The art of cocktail is still thriving; it is just being overshadowed by the easy pour, whether into a frosted mug or bulbous glass.
It takes a lot for a wine bar to be good, and so many ways for it to be bad. First, the drink selection has to make   sense. Some places stick to a country or region. Others go more global, but stick with the wines that define a given region - California Cabernet, Australian Shiraz, German Riesling, etc.
Then comes the food selection. Generally small plates and perhaps some cheese and charcuterie, because otherwise you are eating at a restaurant that focuses more on booze than cuisine. In other words, it's fancy bar food.
Finally, decor. I didn't think this was important until I went to a local wine bar that not only had a poor wine selection and sub par food, but nude felt paintings on the wall. Making the situation worse, I went with a female friend and I have a tendency to look around so I looked like a 70's era perv staring at the nude felt paintings behind on the wall behind her.
So where does one find all three - wine, food, ambience - in one place? Most places do one or two well. As you can tell from the example above, some places fail at all three pretty badly. My choice is Salumeria Rosi - a predictably italo-centric wine bar that perhaps excels more in food than in wine, but certainly does not disappoint. Some dishes are better than others, but in four trips I have yet to be disappointed. A béchamel sauce is used with the pork and beef lasagna. And it is good. So are the Brussels sprouts, and the leek and pancetta tart. Even the desserts - featuring a bread pudding of the day (brown sugar when I tried it) - are worth checking out. All small plates, which means order a few and share, then order more. Which is how the bill gets to be unexpectedly high.
As for decor, the acoustics are good, the lighting dim, the tables ridiculously heavy. There is a large sculpture of Italy running up a wall onto the ceiling. The acoustics are key because the place is so small. Which brings me to the one real problem here. Forced turnover. It seems that from the moment you are seated, an egg timer is set. One time, my friend and I were warned that there was a reservation in 70 minutes and we would have to clear out before they arrived. Another time, the hostess offered to evict diners who had lingered too long. Is there a less aggressive (or arrogant) way to encourage turnover? If there is, the management is not interested. The fact that Anthony Bourdain's show No Reservations just aired an episode featuring Salumeria Rosi, things are only going to get worse. But that lasagna. So good.
Maybe it isn't really a wine bar; just an italian tapas-style restaurant masquerading as wine bar. The wine list is by no means expansive. The list at Del Posto was a book while Salumeria Rosi's is more aptly described as a pamphlet. Regardless, the wine, food and decor (when you aren't being pushed out the door) all pull together nicely.

Salumeria Rosi, 283 Amsterdam Avenue (at 73rd Street)

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