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Mulino a Vino, or The Wine Mill (the name is a play on mulino a vento, Italian for windmill), a self-styled "Italian Wine Restaurant" which opened in early September on the edge of Manhattan's trendy Meatpacking District, is a gem of a place, with good food, good wine, and a feeling very much its own. The particulars:
The owners: Paolo Meregalli and Edoardo Marchiorello, who are also partners in Meregalli USA, a wine import firm. Meregalli owns a wine bar called Mulino a Vino in Italy itself, in Monza, just north of Milan. That Wine Mill has a menu of salads, cheeses, salumi, and "carpacci" (a silly neologism which attempts to make a plural out of a man's last name), and has little relation to its New York counterpart beyond a shared name.
The chef: Davide Scabin, one of the better-known contemporary-style chefs in Italy, holder of two Michelin stars for his avant-garde Combal.Zero in Rivoli Torino, near Turin in the country's Piedmont region. Scabin is not involved with the Monza restaurant, but has "designed the menu" for the Mulino a Vino here. While he is around these days, it is unclear how much time he intends to spend here or how often he will grace the establishment with his presence.
The place: Basement level, warm and woody, 25 to 30 seats at regular tables plus another 15 or so around a marble-topped counter hemming in the kitchen and at a broad shelf against the front window; a private dining room in back, with room for 20 people tops plus a "library," a small salon equipped with couches.
The service: Very friendly, knowledgeable, earnest. It is said that all the servers know the wines on the list (ours, at the counter, certainly seemed to) and it is recommended that diners choose their wines first, then build their meals around them.
The wines: A small but attractively eccentric all-Italian selection, with everything available by the bottle or the five-ounce glass (open wines are kept fresh through Coravin technology), including some offerings that are seldom seen (a sangiovese vinified "white," with no skin contact; a Sicilian zibibbo, which in fact is a dry muscat of Alexandria) as well as multiple vintages of some big names like Ornellaia and Sassicaia — in this case with glasses costing into the hundreds of dollars. Silly oversize tulip-shaped wine glasses, awkward to handle and no friend to the wines' bouquet (the big red wine glasses are particularly unwieldy for handling five-ounce pours).
The food: Imaginative reworkings of classic Italian dishes and a few i
"SuperTuscan Cecina" is a chickpea-flour pancake (a slightly thicker version of the farinata of Liguria or the socca of Nice) topped with burrata and paper-thin slices of tomato "carpaccio" (singular) and finished with a flourish of mozzarella–basil foam straight from a siphon. Brandacujun is a version of an old Ligurian dish, traditionally made with dried cod (stoccafisso, or stockfish) but here using salt cod (baccalà), with the fish finely puréed with potato and seasoned with black olive bits, anchovy, and parsley oil — silky and delicate, despite its strong-flavored ingredients. Shrimp Island risotto is remarkable: a towering cone of perfectly cooked, perfectly white carnaroli rice in the middle of a plate, topped with wisps of red shrimp; dense shrimp bisque is poured around it and the diner mixes the rice and soup together, producing a perfect risotto. Roast chicken ravioli is just that: ravioli filled with roast chicken, potatoes, and ricotta, tossed with sautéed mushrooms and moistened with burrata cream — delicious.
The standout, though, is a celebrated dish from Combal.Zero, "bombolone cacio e pepe." A bombolone is a plump Italian doughnut, typically filled with custard or marmalade (picture a sugar-dusted American jelly doughnut). Scabin's version is made with pasta (apparently, pasta is cooked into mush and then reconstituted as dough) and is filled with the elements of the classic Roman cacio e pepe sauce — pecorino Romano and black pepper (in a cream sauce in this case). Finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano takes the place of powdered sugar on top. The result is wonderful, salty and savory.
There are another eight dishes on the brief menu, including a Combal.Zero take on vitello tonnato, a dish of braised octopus with black olives and cherry tomatoes, and what is apparently a straightforward tagliatelle alla bolognese "the real one," with a six-hour sauce. The very short dessert list includes a "Tribute to Manhattan" cheesecake: peanut butter cheesecake with blueberry jelly.
The prices: Steep. Each of the 13 items on the dinner menu is offered in three sizes, piccolo, medio, and grande — small, medium, and large. These are $18, $32, and $45, respectively. (Desserts are also served in three sizes, priced at $12, $20, and $30.) A small portion of the brandacujun, however tasty, was only a few forks' worth; a small portion of bombolone consists of a single one. Two people could made a nice meal out of three small portions apiece, but that's $108 right there, before wine, tax, and tip.
The verdict: Great little place, unusual and fun, especially if you've got plenty of leeway on your Visa card. At the very least, it’s worth stopping by for a bombolone and a glass of good red wine.