Above: Prince Edward Island oysters at Marlow & Sons in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
As I walked down Broadway toward the water from the J train Marcy stop on Thursday night, I was blown away by how many hipster and higher-end venues have opened in this Williamsburg neighborhood. When I first moved to NYC in 1997, there really wasn’t much here save for the bodegas, pizzerias, and fast foods that lined the street below the elevated train. Back then, the only restaurant that could draw Manhattanites over the Williamsburg Bridge was the highly overrated German beer hall Peter Luger, a would-be steakhouse where overpriced aged beef is drowned in clarified butter and hot-house-grown beefsteak tomatoes are dressed with Peter Luger steak sauce, a fancier version of A1 Steak Sauce.
My destination was über-hipster restaurant Marlow and Sons where I met up with two of the coolest food bloggers I know, Ganda and Winnie (funnily enough, our friend Cecily, also a super cool blogger, was sitting at the table next to us).
Above: note the cloudiness of the unfiltered Lunar in the glass.
We opened the evening with a 1996 Viña Gravonia by López de Heredia (an 11-year-old white wine) that went great with the Prince Edward Island oysters. The wine had more fruit in the mouth than the 95 and 94 that I’ve tasted and its gently oxidized nose was perfect with the salty oyster water.
Next we opened a 2006 Lunar (Ribolla Gialla) by Movia (that I had brought). I had met Movia’s owner Aleš Kristančič when he came to NYC earlier this year and he turned me onto this wine. As he explains it, he essentially places whole grape bunches into a vat, seals it, and lets the free-run juice turn into wine. According to Aleš, this natural wine contains such a small amount of sulfites that he believes he can have it approved by the TTB as “sulfite free.”* This unfiltered wine is rich, tannic, and shows wonderfully fresh flavors and aromas. In a way, it’s like the wine that early humankind drank: grapes that someone had forgotten in an amphora that inadvertently turned into wine. Lunar isn’t cheap and it’s not for everyone but I love it.
We closed the evening with yet another natural wine, a great Gamay. Wine director Marisa Marthaller has put together a remarkable list of naturally made Beaujolais and Beaujolais crus (probably rivaled only by Byron Bates’ list at Bette). She was kind enough to open her last bottle of Phillipe Jambon 2004 Roche Noire. Gauging from the initially super stinky nose, this wine contained no added sulfites. Winnie pointed out rightly that it smelled “poohey.”
Above: a laboratory beaker makes for a great decanter. Because of this natural wine’s initial “poohey” nose, it needed a lot of swirling and aeration. But when it came around, it was delightful.
Marisa (who really knows her stuff) decanted the wine in a laboratory beaker and the pooh smell gave way to delightful fruit. We asked for poohey cheeses to pair and she brought us some Hooligan (CT) and Dorset (VT). I ate the rind and all.
The food there was very good although a little too hipsterized for my taste. The oysters were fresh and delicious but the latkes were a little soggy. I liked the stewed lentils but we all agreed that it didn’t really make sense to top them with undercooked broccolo romanesco.
By the time we left, the restaurant was packed. In our corner alone — between me, Ganda, Winnie, and Amy — there were four bloggers: I can only wonder how many others visited that blogilicious night.
* Sulfites are compounds containing sulphurous acid. In modern winemaking (i.e., winemaking since the mid-19th century), small amounts of sulfur dioxide are often added to wines to “stabilize” them before shipping. The sulfur helps to eliminate bacteria that may be present in the wine and it also helps to keep the wine from oxidizing. But all wine contains some sulfites because as yeast turns sugar into alcohol, one of its byproducts is acid. The U.S. requires that all wine be labeled “contains sulfites” because asthmatics and people with aspirin allergies can be affected adversely by contact with sulfites. The “sulfite headache” is a myth. The reason why certain people experience headaches after drinking even small quantities of wine is that they are drinking bad wine! Imbalanced wines — especially highly alcoholic and overly concentrated wines — are what give people headaches. You can also get a wine headache by drinking too much of any wine and it’s important to remember that you should never drink wine without food and you should never sit down at the table without having a glass of water as well (if you’re drinking wine).