By Ethan Wolff
I like to front as a sophisticate as much as the next guy. I want to feel like I understand the finer things. A deep, complex glass of red. The subtle layers of taste in pï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½tï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ or carpaccio. The way the nasty quality of a clam can synch with butter and basil and treble the pleasure of all three. Of course, left to my own devices, cheap Chinese food and beer seem to be the default settings. Thatï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½s why itï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½s nice to find a place like the 8th Street Winecellar. In a totally low-pretense setting, an attention to detail and quality here helps a person feel civilized
This is a wine bar, so the food is small plates, served up by chef Carlo Soranno. The offerings are clever, if not overly showy. Tuna sliders are a big seller. Supple ahi tuna patties are slipped into miniature potato buns, with firm tomato slices providing some spine. I really dug the ginger coleslaw on the side, with its hot-spiced kick. The frisï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½e salad is the equivalent of a schoolboy reading Maxim slipped inside the pages of a biology text: the healthy greens on top hide a rich potato gratin, with both elements equally steered by the tanginess of sherry vinaigrette. The cheese plate comes with rustic black bread and palate-cleansers of tapï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½nade and chutney. I sampled the Bartlett Blue, Montcabrer, and Brebirousse. None went particularly deep or complicated in flavor, but each was as smooth and creamy as you could hope for. (And if all the haute stuff is bringing you down, there are also honest to God pigs in blankets, in glorious golden dough.) Dessert brings a cookie sampler, with a homemade take on the Oreo and an excellent, airy oatmeal item–although the plate begs an espresso. And for that, the bartender has to point you toward an outside establishment halfway down the block.
Some wine bars make me feel like their oenophilia is an afterthought: The community board cockblocks the full liquor license and a joint is stuck with a PG-13 take on bar life. Not so at 8th Street. A stellar high-proof selection covers the back wall. The wine list itself reflects a strong edit, too, with Alsace, Australia, Napa, and Columbia Valley making the cut. Iï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½m a sucker for the Piedmontese, and my Nebbiolo was as good a glass as I can remember, slightly spicy with a hint of blueberry at the finish.
The two partners in charge, Jonny Cohen and Michael Lagnese, built up a fan base behind the bar at Union Square Cafï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½. USCï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½s legendary hospitality has rubbed off. Service is patient, never making you feel rushed. Staff is as quick as the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory to volunteer a sample taste. Open beer bottles are kept on ice behind the bar as if they were champagne. The subterranean space has almost a speakeasy feel. Thereï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½s a slate bar in front, and a second, smaller, tasting bar in the back. In between are a few tables, a couple of patches of de riguer brick, and a bank of flattering, exposed-bulb lights. Somehow, the low ceilings manage to come across as intimate rather than confining.
The address is more NYU than Village, but draws a little of both, with some Gold Coast lower Fifth Avenue influence thrown in as well. A waiter in a ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½I Heart Hot Momsï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ t-shirt suggests a play for cougar packs. The room is versatile enough that it can handle whomever comes in, however, and then send them back up the stairs with the feeling that they know something about how to enjoy the refiner things in life. 28 W. 8th St. (Fifth Ave. and MacDougal St.) 212-260-9463 Greenwich Village