ABV Wine Bar | 1504 Lexington Ave. (at 97th St.) | 212.722.8959 | abvny.com | | |
FUNKY, HIP NEW restaurants with modern, creative menus are desperately trying to inch their way into the ideology of the Upper East Side, painstakingly, it seems, one brick at a time. It is surely difficult to be different in such a homogenous neighborhood, especially when it comes to restaurants. Upper East Siders of old stay loyal to their favorite haunts of decades ago where the staff have watched their customers grow up, while recent transient UESers read TIME OUT New York and hardly consider any food joint above 14th Street a sufficiently viable, social media-sharing-worthy, dining option.
Cascabel Taqueria, when it first opened a couple of years ago, received rightful fanfare, with its notions of nouvelle twists on traditional Mexican fare, the idea of which was downright outré at the time. Then last year, the excellent Earl's Beer & Cheese opened on 97th & Park, offering foie gras on waffles and a grilled cheese with pork belly and kimchi, near alien ingredients—much less, combinations—to the storied cufflinked and pearled set who for the last several decades have raised their children on JG Melon's burgers, Jewish deli sandwiches, and the occasional Old World exotica of the Heidelberg (brats for the adults, potato pancakes with applesauce for the kids).
Yes, there is new blood in Yorkville, ones who watched Emeril in—and have been watching the Iron Chef since—their early childhood. Their food savviness is less a latent affectation than it is an subconscious upbringing. They fear not the new foods and dishes of mixed cultural culinary ideology; they, in fact, seek them out and embrace them.
So after the critical—and social—success of the stellar if diminutive Earl's Beer & Cheese, the owners opened up a more spacious wine bar called ABV (as in alcohol by volume) just a block east on Lexington.
Yes, the spot focuses on its grape varietals and crafty suds (some of both available on tap!), but the menu, architected by Chef Corey Cova, promises the same attention to quality and detail to the food as well. As usual, certain items pop out directly at me. Having started my P&H Co. Sarsparilla (yummy!), I sought to try the crispy (fried) smelts, served with a sriracha-tobiko sauce as my appetizer.
The deftly filleted smelts are lightly seasoned, dredged, and fried, serving to let the smelt flesh showcase its mellow fishiness, and its semi-firm and flaky meat. The heat and slight acidity from the sriracha broadened the fish and its crunchy coating's impact on the palate, with the added tobiko (flying fish roe), and a pleasant amount of brininess and salt. The smelts being a smaller size of fish as well made for a novel and enjoyable breading-to-fish ratio.
The next item I ordered—knowing I would when I first saw it listed on the menu online at home—was the tartare pizza, a baked pita round topped with chopped beef, anchovies, olives, shaved parmesan, and microgreens (listed on the menu as Ouray.
Another success. Properly seasoned beef finely minced to an almost silky texture, earthy fresh olives, robust and salty anchovies, floral and only slightly bitter greens, mellow and homey parmesan, all make for several great bites when supported by a thick sliver of toasty and sturdy pita bread. Most filling as well, as I had to ask for the second half of it "to go", with the last few picks of the crispy smelts.
I was right to get to ABV right at 5 p.m., when they open for dinner. (They are for now not open for lunch, but do serve weekend brunch.) I had just the last moments of natural light to take the photos and I was done as the place started to fill up with new, fresh-faced and young customers. The kind of customers who want to make a place their before it becomes everybody's place. And since I have yet to sate my curiosity of having ABV's General Chang Chicken Sandwich with cured cucumber and hoisin, or the Foie Gras Fluffernutter on Wonder bread with hazelnut crumble and sour apple, this might have to become my place too.
Bun Apple Tea!
ABV Wine Bar | 1504 Lexington Ave. (at 97th S.t) | 212.722.8959 | abvny.com | | |