Gabe and I both have busy schedules: between his work trips and my writing and wine studies, there’s little free time together at the end of the week. And, not to say we’re tired old folks but, when our calendars cooperate, we’d often rather have a nice dinner at home and relax than jump in a cab, head to a restaurant, and eat with a bunch of other people!
But the desire to get out of our apartment and explore does win out occasionally. When we were in Paris several years ago, we discovered that the best way to counter jet lag was to rise early in the morning and spend the day sight-seeing. Later in the afternoon, when our energy flagged and our appetites nagged, we’d have an early dinner in the neighborhood we’d been visiting.
We had the chance to eat in some pretty fabulous places, before they were jam-packed for dinner service. Afterward we retreated to our apartment, feeling fat and happy – and tired! An early bedtime allowed us to repeat the routine the following day.
(Ahem: no comments on the other Early-Bird Dinner phenomenon. I’m from south Florida, but I don’t have blue hair and Gabe doesn’t wear competing plaids!)
Bringing the Strategy Home to the States
When the travel gods smile upon us and we find ourselves in New York at the same time, we employ our Paris Strategy here at home. That usually means sleeping a little later on Saturday morning, enjoying a leisurely breakfast, and planning our excursion for the day.
Our planning centers around where we want to eat. We mull over the options and pick a new restaurant we’ve been eyeing or perhaps an old favorite we haven’t visited in a while. Our meandering is unstructured, taking us through a neighborhood or two, with our chosen eatery as the designated endpoint.
After a few hours of roving around, we’re ready for dinner – even if it’s only 5:00 pm.
(Note: The key to the Paris Strategy is knowing which restaurants remain open between lunch and dinner services and/or open early for dinner. And, as we’re in casual clothes, we save the fancy-schmancy places for another time. The Open Table app has most of this info.)
Revisiting an Old Friend
Our latest outing took us downtown to the Bowery, home to one of our absolute favorite places: Vic’s New York. I’ve written about this place before because our history as a couple is tied to it. When we were dating, Gabe used to wine and dine me at wonderful spots all over Manhattan. I always enjoyed his native New Yorker approach to finding the perfect restaurant; one that always had a table for us. Of course, the food had to be top-notch too!
Vic’s used to be called Five Points, one of “our” special places; one to which we returned many times. We even ate there the night before our wedding! Shortly afterward it closed for remodeling, leaving us at once sad and hopeful. What would it become? Would it still claim a place in our hearts?
The answer is a resounding “Yes!”
What’s New at Vic’s
Since my last post, a few things have changed – minor details, that is. The form and function at the root of the Vic’s experience remain – an Italian-based menu that would satisfy vegetarians and carnivores at the same table; a wine list that makes geeks like me so, so, soooo, happy; attentive, knowledgeable service that lets you relax and enjoy every bite.
The only real modification is to the wine list. Previously, all wines were available as a taste, a glass, a quartino, or a bottle. No more tastes or quartinos, a change that makes sense business-wise and in no way diminishes the opportunity to try some really interesting wines.
The menu changes constantly, depending on what’s fresh at the market and what’s currently inspiring chef Hillary Sterling. You will always have vegetable plates, pizza, pasta, and meat/fish dishes. Check out their menus online – I dare you not to get hungry!
Before I even glanced at the food options, my attention went straight to the wine list. For sparklers, there was a rosato from the Veneto and a blanc de noirs from Champagne (bottle only). The white wines included Pinot Grigio from Alto Adige, Vermentino from Tuscany, and Inzolia from Sicily. The red list offered sips from Valtellina, Apulia, and Piemonte. And I spied a 2009 Arnaldo Caprai Montefalco Riserva on the bottle list!
My prize came from the rosato section: Kretzer (aka Lagrein) from Nusserhof in Alto Adige: $17 for a glass; $68 for the bottle. The Mayr family has worked the vineyards, which lie just outside the town of Bolzano, since 1788. This beautiful rosato was 100% Lagrein; half was produced via direct press, half by the saignée method.
That’s all the secrets of the wine that I’m willing to spill for now. But stay tuned for a follow-up post including all the geeky details on the Mayr family, their winery, and this deeply colored rosato that now has my full attention!
Plate #1: Crispy Sweet Onion with Dried Tomato and Parmigiano
We’ve had this dish before and, all I can say is, if you eat at Vic’s you must order it! Chunks of sweet onion fried in a light batter and seasoned with flecks of smoky dried tomato, a crumble of Parmigiano, and micro greens. A tangy Parmigiano-based dipping sauce comes along.
I don’t eat a lot of fried food, but I will always make an exception for this dish. No grease, and the coating stays put (i.e., no naked onion slices wondering what happened to their crusts!)
Plate #2: Roasted Purple-Topped Turnips with Castelvetrano Olives and Horseradish Sauce
When Gabe ordered this dish, I was a bit surprised: it seemed outside his normal zone. But I’m so glad he did! Our server heartily approved, saying it was an unusual, yet very enjoyable combination of flavors. The turnips came whole, dressed in fruity Castelvetrano olive oil, with a handful of those olives scattered around. Everything was dusted with a fresh horseradish sauce. Yes, it may sound like odd flavors to put together. But it’s one of those combos that just works – the earthy turnips, the bright, fruity olives, the spicy horseradish. Another must-try.
Plate #3: Calabrian Chili Crispy Chicken
If you like it hot, this dish is for you! A big chunk of white-meat chicken covered with a crispy, chili crust, it’s a new take on comfort food. And, if you love Asian spices, you’ll scarf up every bit of the vinegary cabbage salad that lies underneath. It reminded me a bit of kimchi and made the perfect complement to the richness of the chicken.
Plate #4: Rapini Pizza with Crescenza, Lemon, and Fresno Chili
We ordered this small pie to go, having it boxed up as we paid the check. Dinner at 4:30 meant Gabe (and maybe I) would want something to nibble on later in the evening. With a thin, airy crust and only a couple of toppings, this pizza was just right as a late-night snack. And the flavors packed a punch – bitter greens, creamy cheese, a hit of citrus, and a touch of heat. Pizza perfection!
I hope I’ve inspired you to stop at Vic’s the next time you’re in New York City. It’s a great place to grab a bite, especially if you stop in between lunch and dinner (they don’t close). It’s a totally respectable way to adopt the Early-Bird dining habit. Just leave the blue hair and plaid pants at home!