One night, after we’d spent some time poring over Pearl & Ash’s (220 Bowery, 212-837-2370) nearly 2,000-bottle inventory, my tablemate huffed under his breath, “Why would anyone want a waxy wine?”
“I think it’s a texture thing,” someone else in our party offered up.
“Is it, like, chewiness?” another one chimed in.
Patient and well-intentioned, head sommelier Bryn Birkhahn discussed with us the quirky delights of different varietals with the same effervescence as the pét-nat — an of-the-moment style of unfiltered sparkling wine — she peddles.
Her mentor, wine director Patrick Cappiello, wears the same hat next door at Rebelle (218 Bowery, 917-639-3880), the modern French sibling spot he likewise co-owns with Branden McRill and hotelier Alessandro Zampedri (whose budget-chic Bowery House hotel sits atop the two restaurants). He favors natural wines, grower Champagnes, and other offbeat sparklers and often dons sleeve-tattoo-baring T-shirts or lumberjack plaids while sabering bubbly to rousing applause.
At Pearl & Ash, Birkhahn set us straight with an acidic and minerally grüner veltliner, as well as a blissfully fruity herbal gamay from Rhône producer Hervé Souhaut ($30 retail) for $58 — a downright compassionate markup. The gamay’s earthy flavor and light body grooved with both the smoked-onion broth surrounding a flaky black cod fillet and a tender “six day” brisket, which chef Trae Basore — who replaced opening toque Richard Kuo last October — brines for five days in pink and white salts, white and brown sugars, honey, ginger, garlic, fresno chiles, jalapeños, basil, and mint. Having been slow-cooked for a day, the meat had a texture that contrasted with bracing horseradish, crisp sunchokes, and dots of black-garlic purée. Like the rest of Basore’s small plates, it tugs at familiar flavors with cheeky and unconventional ones.
Malty black bread with cultured butter goes for $6, or $23 with sturgeon caviar. Slices of wagyu steak perch next to a bright-green, and bright-tasting, broccoli purée, and black-vinegar-brined sour peanuts punch up a plate of charred rapini.
Pastry chef Michael Werrell gets in on the whimsy too, plunking tartly sweet green-apple sorbet onto a ring of cheddar cheesecake. His dense brownie with bourbon ice cream, however, is pure comfort food. Rare is the restaurant in this town where you can eat through a modern American menu this fun while unearthing gems, like a dusty Eric Texier Côtes du Rhône from 2001 — the year the winemaker first adopted biodynamic practices — for $40.
One door over, Rebelle’s wine list also abounds with affordable treasures, like a big and spicy eleven-year-old organic Bordeaux supérieur for $49 ($25 retail). Here, head sommelier Kimberly Livingston Prokoshyn focuses exclusively on French and American wines, paying homage to the restaurant’s Parisian influences and local roots. Chef Daniel Eddy grew up in East Harlem and cooked in France for another American, Daniel Rose, whose Spring restaurant informs Eddy’s embrace of “bistronomy” here at Rebelle, where a casual setting is meant to take the edge off fine dining. You should try taking the edge off, too, by sharing plates of effortlessly pleasurable plump anchovy fillets or an impeccable smoked duck foie gras torchon, a daffy touch and perfect for slathering on toasted sourdough.
Aim for a seat around the open kitchen in back. You won’t find any lengthy tastings at the white marble counter, just Eddy’s streamlined and progressive à la carte menu — the same one served in the vast, brick-lined front dining room.
Smaller plates, like Eddy’s roasted winter squash (be sure to eat the skin) with espelette pepper and sharp treviso, or raw fluke with capers and lemon, traffic in big flavor. He lavishes both dishes with brown butter for added depth and richness. There’s similar savory magic at work in Eddy’s shallow bowl of poached lobster with gently snappy cabbage and in the slow-simmered chicken jus he pours between chicken-fat-cooked potatoes, green sorrel leaves, and a cleverly butchered, crisp-skinned plank of both dark- and light-meat fowl.
A vegetarian entrée of carrots and mushrooms (chanterelle, black trumpet) is the lone snoozer — in need of additional seasoning despite the fact that Eddy roasts the root vegetables in a bed of hay. Rohan duck breast and sausage is smartly composed and succulent next to the pear and watercress Eddy plates with it, but adventurous carnivores should consider opting for the chef’s veal porterhouse special when available. At $90, it most certainly is “for two,” as advertised, but the meat-and-potatoes spread includes luscious jus-glazed spuds and a straightforward, lightly dressed green salad to go with the rosy slabs of meat.
Sweets at Rebelle fall to Samantha Chen, whose work ranges from modernist compositions featuring marvelous frozen treats (e.g., Earl Grey and thyme ice creams and a grassy sheep’s-milk sorbet) to faithfully traditional clafoutis and flaugnarde. When Rebelle debuted last spring, opening pastry chef Jessica Yang dotted the latter — offered as a $24 shared dish — with pitted dark cherries before switching to grapes during autumn; both versions came topped with lime-zested whipped cream. Currently, the creation arrives in its oval ceramic crock with a heap of glazed walnuts and a tangy lashing of crème fraîche. Dig your spoon into the flan-like dessert and unearth sweet, fudgy dates with a hint of Cognac.