[Pigging by Wilfrid: December 14, 2009]
An appropriate season to review this recently opened wine bar as ardesia (or ardisia) crenata is also known as "Christmas berry."
It says here, anyway - I know nothing of plants and flowers.
But Ardesia brings seasonal cheer at least, to residents of the modernist Archstone Clinton apartment complex, the first floor of which it occupies, or to anyone else prepared to make the journey west. And it is a trek: you thought Casellula, the cheese-and-wine bar the other side of Ninth Avenue was a block too far, well Ardesia is on the same street and you just keep walking, across Tenth and onto a block which looks like it has no dining options at all. Watch out for the sign.
Ardesia's space is duplex - slick, high-ceilinged, airy, with one of those dramatic "blacboards" currently the design rage - see DBGB - soaring up the right-hand wall. And yet, apartment building and all, the ambience was surprisingly homey the night I was there. A young couple dandled a well-behaved baby. Servers, not unduly busy, interacted with regulars. After the Theater District, it was all very peaceful.
Mandy Oser, who has a Le Bernardin pedigree, has curated a genuinely eclectic and medium-priced wine-list - almost thirty by the glass, if I counted right, most around the $9-$10 mark - with some good beers available too. There are some nice bottles - Olga Raffault's "Les Picasses" '90 is gently marked up by local standards at $94. I started with cava, though, then a tart Riesling to accompany the first small plates from Amorette Casaus (out of El Quinto Pino) - goat milk ricotta crostini, advertised like just about everything on the menu as made in-house. Chef Casaus even makes "cocktail sausages," which I recall as tiny weiners served at weddings and funerals; hers look much better.
A party next to me was working its way through a board of cold cuts and cheeses, but I pursued the made dishes: quail egg toasts with house-cured pancetta, for example, which turned out to be a riff on eggs Benedict.
This was good gear, the eggs runny and the bacon crisp, a smooth hollandaise soaking and softening the supporting crispbreads.
The bar-tender was an enthusiast for his list, and encouraged me to taste around - I recall a tart Hungarian white and an appealing Saumur-Champigny which would work as well as any red with the egg dish. And of course, one has to try the pork belly wherever one goes (with a glass of Onix from the Priorat).
Surprisingly, and perhaps to the kitchen's credit, the star was not the meat. Oh the meat was perfectly fine in the usual fatty style, but the salad was knockout. I rarely find myself enquiring about salad dressing, but I did, and can report that the diced apples were dressed with grapeseed oil and a sherry vinaigrette. Really good.
I had saved the big gun on the glass list, the $18 La Rioja Alta 'Viña Ardanza' Reserva for the cheese course. Vintage 2000, but still young and big, this is a silky mouthful of wine. With it I chose the Green Hill from Sweet Grass Dairy, Georgia, a cheese in the style of a fresh Brie (there were six selections on the list). No dessert - ice-cream sanwiches or s'mores both a bit sweet for me - but a glass of Yalumba Muscat.
A relaxed, satisfying supper, and well worth the ten minute walk from Broadway hell. They do not need to work on the website though.