First Bite: Bacchanal
We’ve gotten used to finding buttoned-up restaurants in Alphabet City, or destination-worthy eateries in industrial Brooklyn, but it’s still a surprise to stumble upon Bacchanal, situated in a former lighting shop, on the otherwise dumpling shack-dotted and Peking duck-slung border between the Bowery and Chinatown. And while the concept probably won’t make you stop in your tracks on the way to the Grand Street subway station (local, seasonal, quality food in a laid-back environment), the especially noteworthy resumes of the assembled team just might.
Owner Peter Poulakakos (of the distinguished Dead Rabbit and the forthcoming French marketplace, Le District, below Hudson Eats) has recruited a top mixologist Naren Young, of Saxon + Parole and Empellon to oversee the bar program, Ivan Mitankin, who co-owns Vintry Wine & Whiskey and Bathtub Gin, curates a massive list of over 450 Old World wines, and the kitchen is helmed by Scott Bryan, most recently of Apiary, but best known as the founding chef at the esteemed Veritas, preceded by stints at Gotham Bar & Grill, Le Bernardin, Lespinasse, and Bouley.
And appropriately, the subdued room serves as a staging area for these heavyweights with an imposing, U-shaped copper and leather bar flanked by wine storage cases in the center, and a small, but bustling open kitchen in back. So start with one of Young’s fruit and flower-bedecked cocktails — the essence of the season in a coupe glass — such as a strawberry and mint-capped “Summer of Vermouth,” made with Martini & Rossi ‘Rosato’ and rhubarb shrub, the purple petal-strewn “Jasmine,” comprised of Bombay Sapphire East, Campari, Combier and pressed lemon, and the Mezcal-based “Wild Card,” finished with Hefeweizen, fresh pineapple, ginger, and a swizzle of frosted raspberries.
Let Mitankin’s wines see you through the rest of dinner (the restaurant’s name is Bacchanal after all), with dishes that span the Mediterranean, starting with curls of hand-carved Jamon Iberico, paprika-scented Brandade Fritters, and smoky, Spanish Grilled Octopus, set on a bed of Eggplant Caviar. Italy is represented by a trio of pastas, such as chewy Chittara with Bottarga, Swiss Chard Agnolotti sauced with sage and brown butter, and Hen of the Woods Risotto, dotted with spring peas and crowned with a Roast Quail Crepinette. And comforting main courses reveal a host of influences, from tarragon-flavored Farm Chicken paired with Mascarpone Polenta, Atlantic Cod with Manila Clams and White Bean Puree, and a Grilled Skirt Steak, served with Spiced Avocado and Black Bean Chipotle Tinga.
Talk about an intriguing and classy alternative to dollar dumplings on the Bowery…