The restaurant success story of the new millennium is the Italian wine bar. By my count, we now have nearly 30 to choose from, mainly in downtown Manhattan and in Brooklyn. As far as I know, none have yet failed. The earliest examples, like ‘ino, concentrated on pan-Italian snacks that went well with wine, mainly panini and platters of cold meats and cheeses. Eventually, menus became both more specialized and more ambitious. Illustrating the first principle, there are now two places—D.O.C. Wine Bar in Williamsburg and Assenzio in the East Village—that concentrate on Sardinian fare, scooped with the crisp flatbread once eaten by shepherds, called pane carasau. In the latter category, the most ambitious so far is Giorgione, which has extended its menu to include raw oysters, imaginative antipasti, small pizzas, and a short list of pastas and main courses, with nary a panini in sight. Can it still be called a wine bar if it quacks like a restaurant? Let’s just say Giorgione is a restaurant organized according to wine bar principles, which encourage sipping and snacking with no obligation to pursue a multicourse meal. The food is so good, however, that you might want to.
Agreeably located on the bucolic spur of Spring Street that slithers out of Soho in search of the Hudson River, Giorgione is a long, narrow room that begins as a bar, turns into a pizza parlor, then transforms once again into a comfortable dining room, in which the walls are sponged cerulean blue and diffuse lighting conceals even the largest blemishes on the faces of your dining companions. The dish that everyone is likely to be talking about back there is polipette affogate ($12). Eschewing the baby octopi beloved of Sicilians, and the thick adult tentacles of the Greeks, Giorgione’s version features four adolescent specimens, each about four inches in length, lined up on a rectangular platform like specimens for dissection in a zoology lab. And dissect them you will, though your first impulse may be to stuff an entire creature into your mouth. It won’t quite fit, unless you’re Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Other antipasti are nearly as good. But don’t stick to the regular menu: Some of the restaurant’s most exciting fare is found among antipasti specials. One evening we enjoyed a quartet of ricotta-stuffed squash blossoms, and, a few days later, a pair of artichoke bottoms braised with mint. Another time it was an heirloom tomato salad dressed simply with sherry vinegar and fresh oregano. But the strangest starter of all comes from among the regular salads, a crisp green- tomato construction surmounted by shaved slices of pressed tuna roe (bottarga) that do a convincing imitation of rare roast beef. Until you take that first funky bite.
Produced in the wood-burning oven, often by a dude with plenty of picturesque tattoos and piercings, the pizzas are delicious, though there’s little variation among the eight choices ($11 to $14). The pasta selection is more adventuresome, including a maverick strozzapretti—thick, hand-rolled strands intertwined with wads of spicy lamb shank and fresh green peas, and shaggy ricotta-stuffed ravioli called tortellaci, served in a rich chicken stock with fresh green fava beans. The fish and meat entrées ($18 to $26) are massive, and you really don’t need them if you’ve sampled from at least three of the nine categories that constitute the rest of the menu. This is a wine bar, after all.