Got Vino? Try the Village's Gottino!
There's certainly nothing wrong with the food at Gottino. In fact, it's fantastic. Gottino's a new wine bar on the ground floor of an ancient Greenwich Village town house. The catchy name is Florentine slang for "small wine glass." Acres of exposed brick and basketfuls of foodstuffs—beige walnuts, orange quinces, flattened cipollina onions—establish the rustic agrarian tone we've come to expect from wine bars, making you feel like Red Riding Hood on a visit to Granny's house.
Plant yourself at the white marble bar on one of the mismatched stools, or at one of the small wooden tables in the rear. A shelf opposite the bar accommodates standers, who fidget as they wait for seats to open up. Arrive after 6:30 at this no-reservations place, and you're likely to be one of them. As a result of renovation, a fireplace hangs forlornly over the stairs going down to the bathroom, in front of which a well-dressed man sits at a small desk on a Turkish kilim carpet, peering into an Apple notebook. Could he be the Wolf?
Much of the food is created upstairs at a small counter behind the bar. The two sides of the menu suggest different approaches to wine-bar dining. One side might be termed passive, including selections of charcuterie and cheese, most available individually for $6 or in combinations that don't represent much of a savings. At the head of the list is a choice between a good prosciutto and an even better Virginia ham ($12 each). Hand-cut in fat-rimmed shards, the ham one-ups the prosciutto in smoky depth of flavor and grease-oozing richness. Also note the post-Otto reappearance of the cured lard called lardo. Like Otto, Gottino wimps out at the prospect of serving it raw. Still, melting it over toast makes a spectacular crostino.
Semi-locavores will thrill to the mellow and mouth-meltingly soft Grayson cheese, made at Meadow Creek Dairy in Galax, Virginia. Drenched in honey, Gottino's two-year-old parmigiano reggiano is just as desirable, but the pale and runny gorgonzola lacks punch—pick the robiola instead. Also on the passive side, find a chunky homemade pork pâté wrapped in cawl fat, served with a lonely cornichon and a dab of fig jam. Man, is it good!
The active side features crostini, composed salads, meaty mini-entrées, and pickled fish. On this side, the food is mainly Florentine in its outlook, even when chef Jody Williams is at her most creative. In that blessed city and in the Chianti regions to the southwest, peasant cooks are great admirers of fish, though the mountains that separate them from the sea historically prevent them from getting it fresh, making pickled seafood the order of the day. Accordingly, Gottino offers a magnificent thicket of house-cured anchovies tangled with celery and parsley ($4), and a whip of olive oil and salt cod so creamy you'd swear it contained dairy products. It doesn't. There's also a panzanella (bread salad, $7) tweaked with smoked trout, which, you may be surprised to learn, is a fish found in the lakes and rivers of Tuscany. Such is the chef's deep understanding of Central Italian cooking.
Also active are meat-intensive dishes served warm in small clay casseroles—tripe stew, oxtails and polenta, and pork and prune "dumplings," which are really glamorized meatballs ($8). Additionally, there are a few strange inventions. Blood-orange salad topped with crème fraîche and lady apples stuffed with cotechino sausage are two of the rare bloopers found on the menu, which lists about 50 dishes in all.
I was filled with hope by the Italian wines chalked up on a board right inside the front door on my first visit. "Those are our special wines," the waiter had said, "they're candidates to someday be on the regular wine list." The list included good bottles at $24 and $28, but by my second and third visits, the cheapest bottles on the list were around $35. On one of those occasions, I grabbed a 2005 Rosso Piceno ($35) made by Christina Fausti in Fermo, Le Marche, a very rustic red with a cacophonous start and a smooth finish, with the tannins nicely in control. Subsequent research revealed that you could get the same bottle for $11.99 at the Wine Shop (1585 First Avenue). The wholesale price—the one the restaurant pays—is doubtless much less. While this markup is average as far as wine bars go, it's still punitive where serious wine drinkers are concerned, forcing them to sip glasses when they could be downing bottles.
Please, Gottino, offer some $25 choices!
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