After allowing myself to zone out for a couple hours and catch up on some Iron Chef episodes, my boyfriend peeled my wounded marathon self out of bed and half carried me to dinner. He insisted that room service would be fine if I wasn’t in the mood to go out, to which I promptly replied that although I may have had an injured body, I didn’t have an injured spirit. I was in NYC, and there was too little time not to check out as much as we could.
I had an abnormal craving for meat. Red meat. Rustic, cozy, hearty fare. He offered up Peasant in the village, and it sounded perfect.
And it was…almost.
We walked into this cute, cozy eatery—candles everywhere, worn down creaky hardwood floors, cauldrons and cast-iron skillets dangling from the open air brick-trimmed kitchen, and heaping bowls of olives on the table to greet us(my favorite!). As I limped to the table, I knew this would hit the spot!
And it did…almost.
I started with a bit of burrata, one of my favorite cheeses—much like fresh mozzarella, but softer. And then I had the fancy equivalent of potroast, otherwise known as Ossobuco—a traditional dish of slow roasted meat with broth, stewed vegetables, sometimes tomatoes (though mine did not) over a bed of risotto. All in all, compounded with excellent conversation, lovely classical music in the background, a race that was over and a warm, homestyle meal in my tummy, this was everything I could have ever hoped for on the night of my celebration dinner.
My guy wanted to order me a fantastic bottle of wine for the occasion. I pleaded with him to save it for later in the week, as it may be wasted on my off-kilter taste buds anyway. But he was so eager to make this a memorable night. He knew my weakness for the ultra-traditional Giacosa, so although I ordered some nondescript $80 Barolo from 03 (a hot, off vintage), he changed it and went for the 01 Giacosa Barbaresco anyway (2001 was a stellar vintage for this little piece of Piemonte–Barbaresco).
The waiter presented the bottle, and my excitement started to rise. I could already smell the roses and tar, the sweet spices, the unmistakable terroir. So entranced was I, I failed to notice that he hadn’t replaced our shoddy little sippers at the table with proper stemware until the cork was released. I didn’t want to correct him just yet, hoping he might notice, so I tasted from the white wine glass. After confirming that it was, indeed, flawless, I finally made mention of the stems. ‘Do you by chance have some red wine glasses we could use for this wine?’ I asked politely. “Sorry,” he responded, “We don’t.”
Jonathan and I looked at the small little glasses that I doubted were even crystal let alone large enough to allow this Barbaresco to breath. We then glanced up at one another, cursed ourselves for a moment for not settling for the Barolo and acknowledged that there was nothing we could do about it.
Okay fine, I get it. The place is called Peasant. God forbid they slip in some proper glassware, though, when a fine bottle of wine demands it. The thing is, if I were the sommelier at this restaurant, I would never put a bottle of wine like that on the menu. In an attempt to preserve some notion of ‘peasant’ simplicity (forget the fact that these are NOT peasant prices), the wine director compromised the integrity of a wine like Giacosa. And for what?
Searching for insight, my nose was exhausted within minutes as it struggled to identify even the expected aromas from the suffocating liquid. I couldn’t get through. I couldn’t really feel its story. It was muted, muffled…misunderstood. I could tell by its structure—its tannin, flavors, acidity and length—that it was exactly what I wanted. But I couldn’t know it fully. It was draped with austerity, shielded with a translucent sheet, capped as a condom. I could get close to it, but I couldn’t really have it.
I was frustrated. Actually, I was even a little mad. Who would do this to a wine like Giacosa? Stick with simple wine, or allow one of more complexity to achieve its fullest potential.
To me, the sign of a good sommelier is not just one who can spout on about regions, producers and vintages at any given moment, it is someone who has can design a wine list that fits the restaurant. Obviously in a place like Peasant, where the food may be rustic but the prices compete with the top New York restaurants, a wine director may not want to restrict the list to simple ‘peasant’ table wines. It would surely dissuade some foodies from flocking. That said, if a wine buyer has any respect at all for a wine that has been patiently waiting for within the bottle, one would assume he/she would similarly respect its entrance into the world by giving it a place to breath, stretch out and serve its purpose to enlighten. Fine, go ahead, and use the crummy glasses for wines that don’t otherwise need the oxygen, but keep some reserve glasses to the side for the higher caliber wines. I guess I know now that I will never make the same mistake twice.
And so, to end my sentimental diatribe on a sweeter, softer note, my almost perfect night at Peasant ended with a sensational bread pudding. I propelled me to refocus on the positives and acknowledge that it truly was a lovely little restaurant.
But next time, no condom. I’m no stranger to its flaws. I will accept Peasant as is… and order Montepulciano.