201 East 31st Street
New York, New York
Tucked away a few steps off Third Avenue in New York’s Murray Hill section, you might think that Vino 313 was just another one of those neighborhood joints serving up generic potations and mediocre food to a motley collection of egregious locals… but you’d be dead wrong.
Vino 313, the creation of Michael Sosankin, real estate developer, and Jill Park, fashion designer, is reputed to be the best wine bar in NYC; and, after several visits, I can certainly understand why. The interior, a completely comfortable, casually sophisticated space, boasts a cozy, diminutive bar & high- and low-top tables all bathed in the muted glow of votive candles and subdued lighting. There is also the option of al fresco dining in warmer weather.
The wine list, as one would surmise, offers an extensive, well-conceived global selection of nearly 200 bottles, with 20 vintages available by the glass. Of particular note is the exceedingly pleasant Heinz Eifel 2009 Riesling Kabinett from Germany’s Mosel region ($12.00 glass/$46.00 bottle). In the red wine category, you also can’t go wrong with California’s 2009 Silver Palm Cabernet Sauvignon ($54.00 bottle). And for the non-oenophiles among us, there is also an appealing array of specialty cocktails… So this makes Vino 313 a great place to stop by for a preprandial libation and/or snack (as my wife and I did on one occasion), or for a relaxing meal with a group of friends or a romantic tête à tête (as we did on another).
The thing that sets Vino 313 apart, however, is the exceptional quality of the cuisine. Executive chef Michael Vassallo has fashioned a seasonal menu of reasonably priced bistro fare with Italian flair that permits diners to take the traditional appetizer/entrée route, sampling one of the chef’s signature dishes, or opt for a charcuterie/cheese/antipasti tapas excursion.
But if you’re just in the market for a bit of liquid fortification and maybe a munchy on the way from here to there, the house-made potato chips ($5.00) are something of a must. They come dusted with salt & pepper, Grana Podana & herbs, or Old Bay seasonings. We chose the former.
They did, however, take a prolonged period to put in an appearance. Since we had arrived just as the restaurant opened at 5:00 p.m., preparatory to another dinner engagement, at the time of ordering, the chef informed us, the oil was still on its way to the proper temperature to cook the delicate, freshly-cut slices. He apologized profusely and sent out a generous complimentary assortment of olives to assuage our hunger while we waited. And, trust me, these chips are well worth waiting for. Wafer-thin, perfectly seasoned, and ethereally crunchy, they are simply impossible to resist.
Another not-to-be-missed dish – either as a snack, appetizer, or side – is the Brussels sprouts. While ensconced at the bar munching on our olives and chips, a couple settled in just a few seats away. Before too long, this fantastic aroma began wafting in our direction. “Is that the Brussels sprouts?” I inquired. The woman nodded, smiling… To make a long story short, she and her had just returned from Puerto Rico and were on their way home to California. Well, before long, we were carrying on an animated conversation and sharing each other’s munchies (And who says New York isn’t a friendly town!).
But back to those sprouts… They are – and no other words could possibly adequately describe them – simply incredible. Served up in bite-size quarters either with or without benefit of smoked bacon (go for the “with”), they come swimming in an extraordinarily addictive whisky butter sauce. Those nobody-can-eat-just-one chips have met their match.
On the other hand, should you decide to settle in for the long haul and plot out a traditional appetizer/entrée itinerary, in addition to the aforementioned Brussels sprouts, there are several other starters worthy of consideration. The sautéed calamari, for example, is quite good. The rings arrive in a small iron skillet bathed in a richly assertive roasted tomato sauce. They are decidedly plump, exhibiting just the proper texture – which means a touch on the chewy side – but still seem to melt in your mouth. If you’re a squid fancier, you won’t be disappointed.
Then, of course, for a downright comforting opening move, it’s difficult – if not impossible – to resist the considerable homey charms of the restaurant’s version of mac & cheese. Like the Brussels sprouts, the casserole comes with or without smoked bacon; once again, go for the “with,” as these morsels provide the perfect foil for the decadently rich cheddar cheese.
But if greenery is more to your liking, the goat cheese salad, a marvelously rewarding gastronomic gestalt, is highly recommended. The first thing that catches your eye in this presentation is the disc of caramelized goat cheese. The crunchy exterior yields to an extravagantly creamy core, which, in turn, is perfectly counterbalanced by a tangle of beautifully trimmed baby arugula splashed with a palate-cleansing mustard vinaigrette. If that isn’t enough to sufficiently tantalize your taste buds, the addition of a quarter of poached Long Island Bartlett pear should do the trick.
Entrées, depending upon your mood on any given evening, offer up some interesting possibilities. If you’re feeling Italian and lyrical, by all means go for one of the rotating pasta dishes. Recently sampled, for example, was a first-rate pappardelle Bolognese. This dish is a staple of northern Italy’s Bologna region; but the chef at Vino 313 sends forth an excellent rendition of this Italian classic. The long, flat, wide noodles are smothered in a long-simmered, hearty meat sauce enriched with vegetables, seasonings, and just a hint of cream, which imparts the ragù with a pleasurably smooth texture.
But if cool & casual is more your evening’s temperament, you can’t miss with the “New Vino Sliders,” pizzetta (small pizzas) or the panini.
The only minor gastronomic disappointment proved to be the flat iron steak, a nightly special, which was rather tough in spots, gristly in others. Although… the accompanying natural jus and Long Island sweet potato & goat cheese gratin on which it was pillowed nearly snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
For dessert, try the “Milk & Cookies,” or, better still, share several of the cheese selections. And, hopefully, by the time you decide to pay a call, the espresso machine, broken during our visits, a real bummer, will have been repaired.
The Artful Diner
Want to receive e-mail notification when a new review or article is posted?
Diner is an independent, freelance food writer. His latest review and an archive of past reviews for restaurants around the country and the world can be found on this site on the REVIEWS page.
E-mail Artful Diner!