A couple of weekends ago, winter let up a little in New York City, and my husband and I decided to go on an outing. For us that can mean anything, from a lazy walk around the park to a few hours at one of the museums. This particular Saturday we jumped on the subway and went to Union Square. After checking out some of the stalls at the farmers’ market, we headed to Washington Square Park. Planting our bums on a bench, we took in the parade of people strolling by (and tried not to take in too much of what was wafting on the breeze.)
As the sun crept down behind the skyscrapers of the Financial District, our thoughts turned to more practical things like warmth and food. It was Saturday around 6 pm, a little early for most New Yorkers to go to dinner, so we thought we’d sneak in someplace and maybe grab dinner at the bar.
When Gabe and I were first dating, he wined and dined me whenever I was in town for work. Having lived in the city for decades, he always knew where to go for a great meal, no matter which neighborhood we were in. That Saturday, we found ourselves near the site of our first date, so we took a chance and went in. No luck! The restaurant was packed – already!
He thought for a minute and said, “Follow me.” We headed toward the Bowery and another of our old favorite places, only to be greeted by a line snaking from the bar out into the street. No dice. Hungrier and colder by the minute, we walked another block or two, then speculated it might be better to get back on the subway and go home. Boo!
Not ready to give in, I looked around, taking in the multiple construction projects surrounding us. Suddenly I noticed something familiar – a giant billboard suspended over a corner parking lot. “Hey,” I said as I pointed across the street, “Isn’t that where Five Points used to be?”
Gabe’s face brightened immediately and, off we went! Five Points was a regular on our dining schedule back in the day. In fact, it’s where we ate dinner the night before our wedding. We hadn’t been back in a while, but were thrilled to stumble upon it now.
As we walked into what is now called Vic’s, I was comforted by how it still looked the same – cozy bar with a few small tables, larger dining room in back. Maybe this would work out!
Alas, the dining room was completely full, and the hostess (who couldn’t have been nicer) recommended that we eat at the bar. Realizing it was probably our best option (especially as the hour grew later) we hunkered down at the end of the bar and contemplated the menu. Which was totally different from what I remember.
While there were fewer options on offer than when it was Five Points, the dishes sounded tempting so we decided to stay. Just then the hostess approached, asking if we would be interested in a table “in the back, where it will be a little noisy.” We followed her into the kitchen and eagerly accepted our windfall. If my memory serves me, no one would ever have classified Five Points as a quiet restaurant; in fact the noise level was the one thing I didn’t love about it. But sitting in the kitchen, where you can watch the line and see all the delicious dishes prepared? Heck yeah! Bring on the noise!
The Wine List
Oh, this made me so happy – a small, very well-chosen list of nine red wines, all of which were available by the glass, quartino (quarter of a liter), or bottle; eight white wines, same drill; and five sparkling wines, two available by the glass, the rest by the bottle.
But these were not the same humdrum wines you see on every list. The wines you never want to see on any list, if I’m honest. Check this out: among the reds were a Nebbiolo, a Brachetto blend, and a Campanian blend of Aglianico and Piedirosso (guess which one ended up in my glass?) The whites were similarly unexpected: Pigato, Moscato Giallo, and a Treixadura among them. Did I mention that all were available by the glass?
Vic’s also has a small Cellar List, available by the bottle only, which includes a Savagnin from the Jura, a Chenin Blanc from Anjou, and a Nebbiolo from Ghemme.
Bring On the Food
While I was waxing poetic about the wine list, Gabe was practically devouring the menu with his eyes. Vic’s divides the courses into Mercato (vegetables fresh from market); Antipasti; Pasta; Pizza; Entrees; and Contorni (Italian for side dishes.)
There’s a decidedly Italian flair to the menu, which works for us, and I bet most folks love it, too. We opted to share everything, starting with a few small plates, then moving on to a main course and dessert.
Here’s the list:
Roasted Sunchokes with Pistachio Yogurt and Mint Oil. OMG. This is one of the best dishes I’ve ever had! The flavors worked incredibly well together, resulting in a dish with multiple layers of texture and taste. As we scarfed up the last bits, I said to Gabe, “I could have eaten an entire platter of that as my meal.” Truth.
Roasted Clams with Fennel, Roasted Peppers, and Basil. A beauty of a dish, with the herby broth highlighting the sweetness of the clams. It had a touch of heat to it, but not too much. And there was a prize at the bottom: a small pillow of crisp pizza crust, to soak up the juice. Holy moly!
Wine Note: We each had a glass of the 2015 A.A. Durin Pigato from Liguria, Italy. Citrus profile with notes of basil and peach, this was the perfect accompaniment to both dishes. ($14/glass; $25/quartino; $63/bottle.) I’ll be back for more of this one!
Sedanini Pasta in a Pork Ragu. I’d never heard of this pasta before, but it somewhat resembles ziti. And the ragu was outstanding. My Italian husband had to restrain himself from picking up the empty bowl and licking it. Just like Nonna used to make! We ordered an appetizer-sized portion so we’d have room for the main course . . . .
Porchetta with Roasted Rapini, Salsa Verde, and Capers. It’s a good thing we came hungry, as this dish was no joke. All the things you love about slow-cooked pork, including the crispy, caramelly bits on the outside. A ton of flavor, thanks to the salsa verde and sage leaves on top; this dish was gone in a flash.
Crispy Yukon Gold Potatoes with Lemon Cream. Another revelation! I’ve never seen potatoes with such a crisp crust. They must cook them in the blazing heat of the pizza oven. It took us a minute to realize there was something underneath that was worth digging for, but that lemon cream? Forget about it! Very simple, but oh-so-good with those potatoes.
Wine Note: We asked for a quartino of the 2012 Le Vigne di Raito “Ragis” from Campania, Italy. A blend of Aglianico and Piedirosso, two noteworthy red grapes from this area outside of Naples, this wine filled the bill: the high tannin and acid structure were just right with the pasta and the porchetta. I loved this wine, too. I especially loved that it was available by the glass ($19); quartino ($34); or bottle ($87).
And then there was dessert.
Chocolate Mascarpone Torta with Salted Caramel, Orange, and Pistachio. Okay, so when Gabe and I go out, I’m in charge of the wine. It’s my thing and he’s cool with that. But when it comes to dessert, I just get out of the way. That’s his thing, 100%. However, when this torta came to the table, I had a hard time resisting it – and I never eat dessert. Take a look at the photo – come on, admit it – aren’t you craving it just a little bit, too?
We will be back to Vic’s as soon as we have a night together and have the energy to go out. Kidding, sort of. For us to haul ourselves all the way downtown for dinner, we have to be sure of two things: that we will enjoy the atmosphere, making it a relaxing night out; and that the food will be off-the-charts good. Yeah, we’ll definitely be back!
It turns out that our new favorite place is one of our treasured old haunts. Here’s to Vic’s and a long, successful run in New York City.