New York City is one of my favourite cities to visit in the world. Sure there are the museums, the music, the theatre, the shopping…but it’s also the surprises.
My friends Bev, Tina and I were wandering down West 52nd street musing about what makes the ideal wine bar – the atmosphere, the selection, and the nibbles…and the Wine gods of New York magically steered us to Casellula Cheese and Wine Cafe.
The charming little establishment in Hell’s Kitchen looked so inviting even when it was closed, we came back two hours later and fell head over heels.
The wine list has so many interesting selections by the glass. From a sparkling Shiraz from McLaren Vale to a Pinot Grigio from Virginia, but I opted for the MatchBook 2008 Tinto Rey, a blend of Tempranillo, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Graciano from Dunnigan Hills, California. It was spicy with notes of black cherry and currants – fruity and easy to quaff. Tinto Rey means Red King and it reigns on this wine menu. Proprietor Brian Keyser who picks the wine, says it is the most popular red accounting for 7% of its sales. I could have sampled everything on the list.
But Casellula is also the dream destination for cheese lovers. Keyser says his goal is to share his love of cheese with as many people as possible. And its cheese menu tempts even the lactose intolerant. We sampled a flight of cheese, including a Robiola from Italy that I still dream about.
The cafe is small. It seats only about 50-60 people. We sat at the bar which gave us a first hand look at the mastery of preparing the other dishes on the menu such as a killer mac and cheese, a pig’s ass sandwich and stuffed peppers.
Keyser says 70% of the people who line up to get into the cafe are women. Half come from the neighbourhood, the rest come from other parts of the city or out of town. And later in the evening, when the restaurants have served their last plates, the local sommeliers come in to sample what’s new on the menu
Sadly our love affair with Casellula was fleeting. We only had an hour at this cheese and wine paradise. There were moments when we actually considered skipping the Broadway show that we had ordered tickets for weeks earlier. One more glass and I would have rationalized it. But like any great first date, it leaves you wanting more and I plan to spend a lot more quality time there next visit. Check it out if you have a chance.
If you have a favourite wine bar in any city, please share!