It still never ceases to amaze me how a neighborhood’s vibe can radically shift from one block to the next. Cozily tucked away from the chaos of art dealers, drug dealers, street canvassers, and amateur chess champions of Union Square is one of my favorite spots in the city, Gramercy. The local Pierre Loti wine bar on Irving Place is a perfect place to enjoy a bit of peace and quiet while also staying firmly planted in the city.
The restaurant’s name is a glowing tribute to a late 19th Century author of French origin, one of the greatest travel writers of his time. Loti is celebrated among the people of Turkey as an artistic hero, as during his travels he sought to experience the life of true Turks rather than embrace the culture of the Ottoman rule of the period. Owner Orhan Cakir used Loti’s namesake as a means to bring together staples of French and Turkish culinary cultures, the enjoyment of fine wines with Mediterranean finger foods.
This approach is ideal for the setting of a wine bar, centering on the enjoyment of wine and the pairing of it with meats, cheeses, breads, and dips. For our first wines, Chelsea had a Perrier-Jouet Grand Brut, while I had Gewurztraminer. The Grand Brut is a tart, almost piquant sparkling white wine, served with a strawberry sliver. It paired exceptionally well with the olives we were served, which were grown in Turkey. Despite its unpleasant (and nearly unpronounceable) name, the Gewurztraminer is an agreeable white wine. Like its sweeter sibling Riesling, it has a fruity scent to it, but with more of a rosy edge. Unlike Riesling, which is sweet from start to finish, the Gewurztraminer has a sweet initial taste that finishes dry.
Along with the olives came an order of delicious flatbread and three different dips, all excellent. Besides the hummus, which is a favorite of Mediterranean cuisine from Morocco to Lebanon and right up through Greece, we enjoyed two local specialties. The haydari was a stark white dip made from tart yogurt, flavored with dill and garlic, with chopped walnuts included to add texture. The other dip was equally unique, the pink sultan – it was a yogurt-based dip that was flavored and colored with beets, giving it a striking pink color more evocative (at least in our culture) of bubblegum or cotton candy.
Our second round of wine consisted of two excellent reds. I had Nero d’Avola, which was uniquely red with an orange hue. It had strong flavors of plum and licorice – I’m a black licorice lover, but I am keenly aware that it is one of the most divisive foodstuffs in the world. Chelsea enjoyed a purple-red Primitivo from 2008, boldly flavored with hints of cherry. The Primitivo paired perfectly with our next dish, which was a meat and cheese platter. Pairing cheese with wine is an art, but it should not be intimidating. We ordered five cheeses that suited our tastes and found Chelsea’s wine worked with all of them, while mine did not.
For cheese, we had, from softest to hardest, Italian Taleggio (which had a creamy and nutty flavor), French Brie de Mangis (a fine creamy Brie with a savory affect around the rind), Italian Capro Sarda (a surprisingly sweet goat’s cheese, but slightly tart), Swiss Tete de Moines (a tart cream-flavored cheese with an intensely peppery aftertaste, one felt in the sinuses), and Spanish Idiazabal, a smoky and buttery cheese made from sheep’s milk. Given the pairing of bold, yet complementary flavors, my Nero d’Avola worked extremely well with the Tete de Moines, faring poorly with the other cheeses. As a side, we also had a Uruguayan Bresaolo, a salt-cured beef.
The plate was garnished with dried apricots, almonds, a dollop of spicy mustard, and a syrupy sweet rose marmalade. Each cheese worked great with the marmalade, but rose is not Chelsea’s favorite flavor. To each their own. The greatest concoction from this platter was made by me, with a segment of the Tete de Moines, apricot, and an almond, wrapped up in the Bresaolo and dipped in the marmalade and the mustard. It was awesome!
We cleansed our palates with Moscato Giallo, a sweet bubbly Italian white wine. Moscato is one of my favorite sweet whites, smelling of red apples and peach without seeming at all heavy. This was in preparation for our entrees. Chelsea had the Halloumi cheese salad and I had beef carpaccio. Halloumi is a cheese that originates from Cyprus, featuring a high melting point, which makes it easy to cook as a protein item. It’s deliciously creamy and savory – my mouth is watering a week later just thinking about it. The salad featured mixed greens, sliced figs, and black-eyed beans, all topped with a hazelnut vinaigrette. All in all, it was an outstanding salad. My carpaccio was also excellent, made from filet mignon beef, served with shaved Parmesan, arugula, and olive oil.
Before dessert, we each enjoyed a non-wine drink. Chelsea had the Galata, recommended by our host. The drink consisted of vodka, St. Germain, lemon, and blackberries. It was a perfect respite from all the wine. My choice was a more eclectic one, in keeping with my near-fetish of trying new and unique items wherever I go – Chartreuse Green liqueur. Made from an array of herbs (naturally, the recipe remains a closely-guarded secret), it is comparable in intensity to Campari. The most prominent flavor was fennel – some people may not like that in a beverage, but I loved it.
To finish, we had the chocolate sampler. The cacaorforte was 99% cocoa – strong, bold, and bitter, nothing at all like the chocolate treats we grew up loving. It was fantastic. We had two pieces of palet a la feuille d’or dark chocolate, which was a solid dark that seemed a bit weak compared to the cacaoforte. The palet ivoire was a white chocolate wrapped around an espresso flavored truffle – if you can believe it, it was even better than it sounds! The last one stole the show, though: the tango, a creamy chocolate with a strong and slightly salty caramel center. As dessert wines, I enjoyed a Rozes tawny port from Portugal, and Chelsea had a Portuguese Quinta do Crasto that had a hint of caramel in its sweet body.
As with most wine bars, I can only advise the diner to not come to Pierre Loti expecting to leave stuffed. The food was all great, and thankfully none of it was too heavy. Given its quiet locale, its overstuffed pillows, soft red interior, and candle lighting, it is a perfect spot for a date. Its romantic aura is hard to ignore. Its wine selection is unrivaled, the cheese platter (we only had five out of almost twenty cheeses, so there is something for everyone) was a marvelous experience in and of itself, and the chocolates are of the finest quality. After our lovely experience, I now have an excuse to visit Gramercy more often.
Opening photo courtesy of Pierre Loti Wine Bar
All other photos by Chelsea Herman
Pierre Loti Wine Bar
53 Irving Place
For information and additional locations visit www.pierrelotiwinebar.com