Sunday, May 11, 2008

From Italy to New Orleans in one night: Gallo Nero and Bourbon St.

This weekend was a big one for food and drink, so the next few posts will cover the many eating and drinking establishments I patronized on Friday and Saturday. First up: Friday night.

My girlfriends from work and I had scheduled a good old-fashioned wine-and-bitch fest for after work on Friday night, so around 6 we left the office and headed out, looking for a wine bar. Although one of my friends wanted to try Casellula, a wine and cheese bar on 52nd street, I had been there before (it's awesome) and thus knew there was little chance we'd get a table for four in the postage-stamp-sized boite. I recommended we try Gallo Nero, a new wine bar on 44th and 9th, instead. I had been there once before just after it opened, and though it was still working out the kinks at that point, it was clearly a promising place. I figured at the very least we'd probably be able to get a table. Plus, it was en route to Casellula, so if we didn't have any luck at Gallo Nero at least it wouldn't be out of our way.

As expected, we arrived at the nearly empty wine bar and immediately got a table. Gallo Nero is a cute little place, with exposed-brick walls, romantic lighting and candles, and rustic furniture (read: wicker chairs that actually aren't all that comfortable).

Glasses and glasses and glasses...

I ordered a glass of white wine, while the three other ladies decided to share a bottle of red. I sheepishly admit that I don't remember what kind of wine either the glass or the bottle was... shameful, I know. But it's all Italian varietals that I don't really know much about. My glass was pretty average, nothing mind-blowing but a nice thing to sip at the end of the workweek. I tried a tiny taste of the red, and it was... well, red. I'm not a big fan of red wine.

Although I wasn't that hungry, our table did go through quite a bit of food over the course of our few hours there. We started with bread, one of the best parts of Gallo Nero.

Crusty, crunchy bread

The rolls are crunchy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, with just a hint of delightful chewiness. And they come accompanied by a white bean dip, delicious on its own but even better slathered on the bread. The only thing that could enhance this bread experience would be some olive oil for the table... the little dish of bean spread is not nearly enough for four rolls (although they'll bring more dip and more bread if you ask).

White bean spread, next to the mood lighting

Once the bread had come and gone, one of my friends ordered the octopus. I can't comment on how it tasted, being a vegetarian and all, but it certainly looked quite octopus-y. I was told it was very well cooked, a bit briny but very flavorful. It was good enough that the girls ordered a second dish once the first was polished off.

Octopus in a dish.

Octopus in stomachs

The other offering our table tried was the Japanese eggplant alla parmigiana. That was a huge hit-- again, I wasn't hungry and had already inadvertently eaten an entire roll and several spoonfuls of dip so I didn't have any eggplant, but it went quickly and smelled delightful. Plus, you can't argue with documentary evidence of cheese stretch-age:

Cheese in action

With full bellies, we finished off the evening with Prosecco and eventually rolled out of there into the rainy night. Overall, I like Gallo Nero; it's a nice neighborhood-y place that feels comfortable. The bread is top-notch, something I really appreciate. And the food is very good and reasonably priced, although the portions are certainly small. The only fault I've found, something that's been consistent through my two visits, is the service is not that great. It's stand-offish and not really that knowledgeable, despite the fact that it's a wine bar specializing in Italian wines-- on my first visit, I ordered a glass of moscati d'asti (a sparkling wine) and was presented with a glass of dessert muscat. When I gently pointed out the error, they allowed me to keep the dessert wine gratis and brought me the sparkling wine as well, which was nice. But still-- if Gallo Nero is going to stick around and compete with the dozen other wine bars in the neighborhood, it has to step up its game just a teensy bit.

Bubbles bubbles bubbles

Once my girls and I had parted ways, I returned home to relax for a little bit. I was still looking to go out-- it was relatively early-- but it was so gross weather-wise, I didn't want to go very far. Thus, my brother and I ended up at the new Bourbon St. Bar & Grill, a new Restaurant Row tenant on 46th between 8th and 9th, for a nightcap.

I've watched Bourbon St. go up over the past several months. They've done a remarkable job with the building's facade, making it look very much like a New Orleans mansion. Whenever I see a restaurant being born, for some strange reason I always end up rooting for it-- that's what happened with Il Melograno, and the same thing is happening (perhaps to a lesser degree) with Bourbon St. They're like my babies, and I want them to succeed.

We arrived around Midnight on Friday night, and though it was far from crowded, it wasn't disconcertingly empty, either. We ordered some drinks and took in the atmosphere.

First floor and balcony

Though that's a pretty terrible picture, you can sort of make out the setup. There's a sizeable bar taking up most of the first floor, with a lot of tables (up against the wall in addition to communal tables in the middle of the floor) in the remaining area. There's a balcony/second floor overlooking the scene below. And in the back is a lounge-ish area with low tables, although my brother and I agreed that that space might be better used as a dance floor.

Overall, though the bar is certainly very large, it seemed that it could get a bit tight in there with a good crowd due to the oversaturation of tables and lack of empty space. But Bourbon St. certainly held promise: the drinks were good and not too expensive ($8 for a cocktail, $5.50 for a bottle of beer), the ambiance is delightfully New Orleansian, and the soundtrack was notably awesome. I'd certainly go back, and I hope it becomes a successful hot spot in the neighborhood.

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