Proofing Our Wine Bar List: Terroir in the East Village
Afternoon sunlight streams into Terroir, as it prepares for the evening rush.
When we put up Our 10 Best Wine Bars last Friday, the wine bar missing from the list that readers most recommended was Terroir in the East Village. "How in the world could you not include Terroir," groused one commentator.
Well, we take the comments seriously-and never believed our rankings to be infallible anyway. So I made a beeline to Terroir last night with a friend in tow.
The place is very comfy and modern-looking. Seating is along the wine bar and at a communal table that dominates the room. Food prep is done at the bar's end with a small assortment of kitchen equipment, as at Gottino, from a collection of pre-prepped ingredients. The wine list is a thick loose-leaf binder, with a bewildering number of pages, interleafing white wine and red wine menus with strange pieces of art, possibly intended to be humorous. Some celebrate wine personalities; most are laid out like high school art projects.
If Terroir is a place aimed at the wine enthusiast, then I'm their baby. I love wine in all its forms, and try to sample as widely as possible. Nevertheless, I found the list at Terroir to be at first confusing, and then annoying. For one thing, I had to plough through many, many pages of Rieslings, an odd obsession that would be frustrating to most wine drinkers. Moreover, aside from a single bottle at $30, most of the Rieslings were in the $50 to $300 range, with some even more than that. As we all know, white wines are often better deals than reds, at liquor stores, wine bars, and restaurants. Not so at Terroir.
In fact, all the prices seemed out of whack. Three-ounce tastings, six-ounce glasses, and full bottles are offered for a only a handful of reds and whites, constituting a screwy collection in which most of the three-ounce tastings landed in the $7 to $15 range. That's a lot of cash per ounce, even for a wine bar, a genre which usually manages to offer full glasses at those prices. I appreciated that many of the wines are obscure and merited exploration, but why choose only expensive ones?
There was a single Riesling on the per-glass list, offered only as a $15 three-ounce tasting. Weird for a place that is hyping Rieslings. (If they wanted to win you over to that august grape, why not offer several in full glass servings at reasonable prices?) Even though I speak some German, I didn't realize what the "auslese" in the wine's name meant. I ordered it to go with the dinner that my pal and I were contemplating. Not only did the bartender not warn us that this term designates late-harvest wines that are extremely sweet, the menu made no mention of it either. In other words, we ended up drinking what constituted a pricey dessert wine, falling just short of ice wine in sweetness. Rather than winning you over to Rieslings, Terroir seems intent on torturing you with them.
We tried four wines, and the Traminer we tasted was more than satisfactory in its $6.25 three-ounce serving. Similarly, one of the two reds we tried, a Cahors, was excellent, while the other, a Cornas, was overly inky and never lost the taste of rubbing alcohol. It verged on the undrinkable.
One of the reasons the place is so well-regarded, I guess, is that celebrity chef Marco Canora helms the kitchen, such as it is. I loved his cooking at Insieme, but here it seems more like grandstanding than food to go with wine. Of course, there were the usual charcuterie and cheeses. These we skipped because they tend to be about the same everywhere. What remained was a mixed bag: the deep-fried lamb sausage thickly crumbed was good, in a bland English-cooking sort of way, while the beet risotto balls that leaked gorgonzola like pus from an old wound were several steps less than satisfactory. We would have liked the pork panino, had it been warmed long enough to raise the temp of the meat above refrigerator-cold, but such was not the case. When you pay $11 for a modest sandwich at an expensive wine bar, you expect the details to be seen to.
The bibb lettuce salad was splendid, though a bit thickly dressed, leaving a profound smudge on the lip of our wine glasses. Arriving in a shot glass, its surface nicely coated with schmaltz, the chicken liver mousse bruschetta came deconstructed with a decent collection of toasts, proving it would be possible to eat well here--if you could only find a reasonably priced glass of wine. 413 East 12th Street, 646-602-1300
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to New York dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.