Wildair is always a great place for natural wine discovery. The last time I was here I became absolutely obsessed with a mineraly rose called Christian Venier Gris Gourlaouen, and I would buy a bottle of it any chance I could get at Discovery Wines in the East Village. That was several years ago, and on a recent visit, I similarly went nuts for an amazing, jammy red Txaranga from a Spanish vineyard called Vinya Ferrer. Unfortunately this bottle is hard to find and only seems to be available at Dandelion Wine in Greenpoint.Read More
Portugal is one of my favorite countries in the world. You can’t beat the gorgeous weather, the friendly people and the simple, tasty Mediterranean food, all of which come at reasonable prices. So when I heard that a new Portuguese restaurant called Cervo’s had opened up in Chinatown, I made reservations asap, anything to have a taste of the seafood-driven specialties of Porto and Lisbon that I enjoyed several summers ago.Read More
The problem with wine bars is the food. Why is it that the only options seem to be cheese and charcuterie plates? Wildair, the newish wine bar run by the team behind popular restaurant Contra, focuses on natural and funky wines, and the food menu is so much more than cheese and prosciutto. And it lacks that “wine bar” atmosphere that can be a little annoying–pretentiousness, vinophiles taking about how they LOVE this grape, girls night out pre-gaming, etc. It feels like a comfortable neighborhood bar filled with normal people who are there just to hang out.
I have mixed feelings about making a meal out of small plates, but the ones at Wildair are diverse and well portioned so that you can feel like you’ve had a proper square meal. If you only had to limit yourself to one thing, order the fried squid. It looks like the stuff that they serve at Chinese restaurants, except the batter is so much crisper and starchier, and the meat is actually soft and tender and almost ceviche like. And of course, that black ink aioli makes all the difference.
I initially didn’t want to order the bread and olive oil, because why fill up on something so safe and commonplace when there’s a beef tartare to try, but this is one hearty, rustic loaf that represents what we love most about bread. Thick, country crust with a warm, glutinous and yeasty interior and served with the best olive oil, it’s comforting and nourishing and pleasing. It surprisingly outshone the beef tartare I was eyeing, which was disappointingly covered in a blanket of smoked cheddar instead of being left pure and plain.
We ordered a pork milanese in case the other plates were too measly, and we probably could have done without it. It was a perfectly solid dish, but not all that memorable, other than being dense and heavy. I started to notice that all of these plates started adding up. The pork rillettes, which is a shredded paste of mashed pork meat cooked in its own fat, takes up real estate like a foie gras can, and the fried squid and loaf were of course incremental. We were on the verge of canceling the order of Georgia white shrimp with celery and Korean chili, but I was glad to have made room for them and would recommend that others do the same.
If this place weren’t always so packed, I would probably come here regularly, because it’s nice trying a new, weird wine with a little food on the side. Be prepared for disappointment, as the no-reservations policy means that a walk-in attempt at 7 pm will simply be impossible, even if you’re willing to wait for hours, because so is everyone else. A seat here may be a wildcard, but the odds of a good meal at Wildair are anything but.
142 Orchard St (between Rivington and Delancey St)
New York, NY 10002
When James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem announced that the band was retiring, I was pretty bummed. His catchy, dance-y tunes always make my playlist rotation, and they sound even better live, especially the melancholy anthem New York, I Love You.
I’m sure Murphy is keeping busy with all sorts of creative collaborations and appearances, but I was pretty surprised to hear that his most recent endeavor was to open a wine bar in Williamsburg called The Four Horsemen. Can great musicians make great restaurateurs? The restaurant business is such a competitive one, it’s tough for anyone to survive, but with hip,in-the-know friends like David Chang at his side, Murphy probably has the support he needs to run a great wine bar.
A modern, minimalist aesthetic defines the space at The Four Horsemen, similar to the functional pragmatism that you find at many Scandinavian restaurants. The restaurant is small and intimate, with seating for maybe 20 people in the back dining room. 8 pm is prime hour, where the bar out front and all the seats are filled, but the noise level never reaches intolerable levels, and you can still carry a conversation with your friends.
The food menu is a bit limited–it’s more of a bar menu of small plates to go along with your wine–but it’s a well-edited selection that features inventive, seasonal dishes. It reminded me of the menu at Manfreds, the casual sit-down sister restaurant to Relae in Copenhagen, which is definitely a compliment. There were so many interesting things to choose from, such as the driftless sheep’s milk cheese crostini and the beef tartare, but ultimately, the deciding factor for us was quantity, which is why we ordered the meaty pork shank, along with the snap peas.
The pork shank was fall-off-the-bone delicious and very filling, especially with the shelling beans and the side of hearty and robust zucchini and porcini mushrooms that came with it, which served our purpose of getting the most bang for our buck. The plate of snap peas was such a well-balanced mix of flavors and textures that showcased this crisp spring vegetable at its best. The peas retained their crunch, while the ricotta shavings and the cashews added a subtle depth of richness that fleshed out the dish, and the spicy tinge from the Calabrian chili gave it just the kick it needed. Even the house bread and butter was prepared with thoughtfulness. The crusty loaf was hearty and rustic, and the side of butter was mellow and creamy. So far Murphy has a hit on his hands…
I’m not really a wine expert, but I do know that The Four Horsemen specializes in funkier, natural wines that like to run wild. We ordered two bottles of red that were at a reasonable markup, the first being a medium-bodied Santenay that was interesting but still very drinkable, and the second being a Patapon that was very floral and mischievous. I loved how accessible and interesting the wines were, as well as the overall low-key, comfortable vibe of this place. It’s the perfect neighborhood spot, but it’s also worth a visit as a destination. Murphy certainly is a Jack of all trades–shutting up and playing the hits is what he does best, whether it’s in the studio or in the kitchen.
The Four Horsemen
295 Grand St (between Roebling and Havemeyer St)
Brooklyn, NY 11211
For our last day in Copenhagen, we decided to take it easy and enjoyed a long, leisurely lunch at Manfreds, a casual wine bar affiliated with Relae. It happened to be gorgeous out, so we sat at the picnic tables outside and nibbled through the 5 small plates that were part of the “chef’s choice” lunch special. At 175 Dkk ($35), it was a relative steal compared to all the fine dining foraging premiums we had paid the days prior.
I was a little worried that the Relae association would mean more strange flowers and herbs in the horizon, but luckily the food here was a little more traditional and accessible. You can’t escape the foraging aspect entirely–they did throw in marigold flowers and pine needles–but these wild herbs were used to lightly season, rather than subvert, the dish.
Ruoxi sighed upon learning that the first dish was a plate of carrots–he is clearly more of a meat person. The carrots were nicely dressed in some olive oil and mustard, which helped make the vegetables seem more substantial. The marigold flowers were bright and surprisingly citrus-y, and the golden, nutty pistachios were delicious.
This soup was extremely refreshing–a light, cold puree that didn’t rely on tons of cream for some substance and flavor. The crispy bread pieces were very crunchy and satisfying, giving the smooth soup some nice texture.
3 dishes in, and still no meat on the horizon! Ruoxi was eating more and more bread by the minute. The summer cabbage and grilled pork was my favorite dish in the chef’s lunch. I loved the grilled char along the outer edges of the cabbage, and all the leaves tasted very fresh and crunchy. The mild, creamy dressing was very pleasant, and the crisp, rich pork nuggets were fantastic.
We surprisingly did not come across any eggplants in Copenhagen until today. Our first encounter was a very pleasant one. The roasted aubergines were very plump and substantial, and the decadent herb creme sauce emphasized the heartiness of the vegetables.
…and finally, a proper meat dish! A plate full of venison in venison sauce and sprinkled with pine. Only it was extremely gamey. I felt like I was eating dense venison liver full of iron. The pine needles did nothing to help offset the wild flavors. Needless to say, most of the venison went uneaten.
After 4 small vegetable plates and an unsatisfactory meat dish, we decided it was necessary to add on the beef tartare. It was the right call, because the tartare was brilliant. The meat was in such fine shape–a pinch of salt and pepper was all that was needed to bring out the flavors, which was on par with anything cooked. The thick layer of creamy horseradish sauce was so rich and rewarding, while the bread crumbs and watercress helped keep the richness in check.
If you’re keen to do the wine pairing, just note that Manfreds tends to choose wines with “natural” characteristics. You’ll taste volcanic ash, granite and all types of terrain in each sip, but it goes very well with the meal. We were satiated and slightly buzzed by the end, and we took a moment to savor our food coma, since we were in no hurry to leave this wonderful city.
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