New York City is in the midst of a natural wine wave, and artisan wines from small producers are becoming a focus for sommeliers in Brooklyn and beyond. It’s never been a more exciting time to drink (and eat) in the five boroughs, and even restaurants owned by major hotel groups are now focusing on lo-fi wines. We caught up with five of the latest natural wine and dining hotspots in the city.
The intersection of East Williamsburg and Greenpoint is witnessing a long overdue emergence of new restaurants along the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. Pheasant is a new restaurant owned by husband-and-wife team Vincent Fraissange (former executive chef at Isa) and Cat Alexander, a former photo producer who started a catering company—Little Pheasant—after growing tired of food on set. The restaurant grew out of the catering company, which is operated out of the same building, and many of their fresh ingredients are grown in their backyard garden.
The short menu is inspired by coastal Mediterranean cuisine, with a wine list of predominantly French natural wines curated by Alexander herself. The space is bright, with stylish but minimal décor, lush green plants, and a truly stunning outdoor dining area that looks like the scene for a backyard wedding on Pinterest. “Restaurants are beautiful, but I wanted this to feel more like your friend’s place,” says Alexander.
What to Order:
Tiago Teles Bairruda Branco “Raiz” + Fried and Raw Heirloom Tomato Salad with Chimichurri
Nicolas Renaud “Les Grillons” + Roasted Octopus
Correcaminos “Road Runner” + Gnocchi with Chanterelles
Chez ma Tante
Last year, chefs Jake Leiber and Aidan O’Neal opened Chez ma Tante on a quiet tree-lined corner near the Greenpoint waterfront, a short walk from the hustle of Bedford Avenue. The two chefs met opening Cafe Altro Paradiso, and have created a short menu with elevated bar snacks, starters, and mains ranging in influence from English pub food like chips to international street food like falafel.
Everything about this place is unassuming—from the simple black and white sign out front to the white walls bare of any distracting artwork—but I wouldn’t say Chez ma Tante is simple. The selection of wines by the glass is broad but approachable, and as Leiber puts it, “We keep the wine list affordable because we’d rather you hang out here with your friends all night and order two or three bottles.”
The restaurant has become a weeknight haunt for wine industry insiders, probably because it’s the kind of place you can spend hours grazing on small plates and tasting a wide variety of wines without breaking the bank. In this trendy neighborhood where a new bar opens every five minutes, it's a relief to find a place that actually feels like a neighborhood bar.
Tribeca is definitely seeing a wine renaissance this year, with new openings like nearby restaurant Frenchette—and the latest addition is Primo’s, a new bar in the stylish Frederick Hotel at the corner of West Broadway and Chambers. Owned by Aisa Blue Shelley (creator of Chinatown hotspot Mr. Fong’s), Primo’s Italian Art Deco interiors and natural wine list have made quite the stir since opening three months ago. Primarily a bar, Primo’s food menu is overshadowed by the immense cocktail offerings, including a variety of absinthe-based cocktails.
In some ways, Primo’s is the typical New York bar in a luxury hotel—handsome suits grabbing a Martini over a few emails, and well-heeled hotel guests wandering in for a quick bite—but without all the pretense and posturing. “My version of a hotel bar is more relaxed than others in this neighborhood,” says Shelley. The friendly staff, candlelight, and deep green velvet banquettes are inviting, and with a soundtrack ranging from mid-nineties West Coast hip-hop to live jazz, this bar is the perfect date spot any night of the week.
What to Order:
Milan Nestarec “380 Voltz” + Anchovy Garlic Dip and Vegetables
Lammidia “Rosso Carbo” + the infamous Midnight Pasta
Marie et Vincent Tricot “Les Marcottes” + Primo’s Pistachio Pernod Ice Cream
The long-awaited permanent NYC restaurant by Alvin Cailan (owner of popular LA-based chain Eggslut) is finally here, in The Nolitan hotel at the corner of Kenmare and Elizabeth in the Nolita neighborhood of Manhattan. The Usual’s pink walls, simple white tables, and paintings of coastal scenes are elegantly understated, and create a warm environment that doesn’t compete with the food for your attention. The menu features elevated comfort food, with influences from the American South to Asian street food—which Cailan credits to his entire kitchen team being the children of immigrants who grew up in different areas of the US.
Cailan’s sommelier brother Anthony (formerly DomaineLA and Bestia) oversees an extensive natural wine list that ranges from Old World classics to New World contemporaries. Despite managing a list with more than 150 wines already, Cailan is excited for his next project—curating the minibars in the hotel’s rooms: “There’s so many cool canned wines or bottled cocktails on the market right now, and more wines are available to me now that I’m buying in New York, versus LA.”
Brooklyn’s most exciting new restaurant, Annicka, is a new seasonal American restaurant co-owned by Greenpoint Beer and Ale Co. and North Brooklyn Farms. The Greenpoint restaurant is the first in the city to open under Governor Cuomo’s new Farm Brewery license, meaning 100% of the restaurant’s food and beverages come from within New York State—including the beer, cider, wine, and liquor. The space is open and airy, with no real barrier between the kitchen and the dining area, and a colorful outdoor dining room facing out onto McCarren Park.
Executive Chef Christian Perkins (formerly Diner and Marlow & Daughters, where he spent some time as a butcher) created Annicka’s menu alongside “omnivorous” chef Kenny Monroe and vegan chef Emma Jane Gonzalez. The result is a menu that features many vegan options, including house-made vegan butter and ice creams, alongside meat dishes in harmony.
The wine list is broader than you would expect and consists of primarily organic or sustainable wines. “It was incredibly daunting at first—to be limited to New York State wines—but I’ve met every single winemaker on this list… that wouldn’t be possible with a traditional wine list,” says GM Sasha Winters (of North Brooklyn Farms). Bar Annicka recently hosted its first winemaker dinner with Eminence Road, and is planning more events through the end of the year.
Kristin Barnes is a journalist and wine professional based in New York City, and the co-founder of Good Grapes TV. This is Kristin Barnes' first feature for Sprudge.