Racines (94 Chambers St, 212-227-3400) had me at Romorantin, or rather, Cour-Cheverny (the French don’t label their wines by variety, but by region). One seldom finds Romorantin on a wine bar list, let alone by the glass, but this rarity, a textural, aromatic white from Cour-Cheverny in the Loire, has a home on Racines pour list, not surprising given the wine mavens who’ve collaborated on the Tribeca newcomer.
David Lanher, owner of the original Racines in Paris; David Lillie of industry-respected Chambers Street Wines; and former French engineer and self-taught wine disciple-cum-sommelier Arnaud Tronche have amassed a formidable list focused primarily on natural, organic, and biodynamic wines from small producers — and they’ve personally vetted every selection. Another Frenchman, Michelin-starred chef Frédéric Duca of L’Instant d’Or in Paris, guides the kitchen through a tightly edited menu with a Provencal touch.
Given the preponderance of Frenchmen at the helm, the wine selection naturally gravitates towards the homeland. Nearly 8,000 bottles will eventually rest in the cellar, while above ground, the list will rotate through several hundred bottles at a time, with approximately 25 open and available from $9 to $19 by the glass. The Francophile wine geek’s dream list will soon fold in offerings from European neighbors such as Spain and Italy, plus a few American producers.
The décor has a polished rusticity, leaning more towards spare American than quaint Parisian outpost, with rough-hewn dark wood floors, modest wood tables, uncluttered tablescapes, and slender pendant lights set romantically dim. The slick open kitchen reflected in a wall of mirrors and lone white orchid provide visual drama until the captivating wine and food arrive to focus your attention back to Racines’ raison d’être.
The establishment earns style points for its luxuriously deep, expansive bar; the polished white marble slab reminded me of a Seinfeld episode in which Elaine, driving along a highway Kramer had recently widened by painting over the dividing lines, revels in its “roominess.”
Racines observes the code of customer comfort, respecting patrons by refusing to shove in an excess of stools at the counter in an effort to maximize covers. Even the rear dining room tables are generously spaced, no customer forced to hold their wine glass to move a table and let an adjacent neighbor out to use the bathroom, as though dining in coach class on United.
Lately, New York’s wine bar scene has languished in a rut of formulaic mediocrity, new spots sullying the model with their unimaginative wines by the bottle and overpriced glasses; alternatively, many of the new and exciting wine collections ( e.g., Pearl and Ash) were in establishments masquerading as a restaurant and wine bar when they really function as a restaurant with a small overflow area for drinks. Not that a great kitchen can’t enhance a wine bar — it does and it should, since food and wine are natural companions — but the two physical spaces shouldn’t compete with one another, and Racines has perfected that model.