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Californian Seeking Same in Manhattan

As West Coasties, it is easy to take broad availability of California wines for granted. To gain a more balanced perspective, we decided to take our act on the road and check out one of the biggest towns for wine in the country. So, even as Jason Giambi is fixing to leave the Yankees for a return to the Oakland Athletics, we have gone the opposite direction to spend a week haunting the wine bars, wine shops and restaurants of Manhattan in search of Californian wine.


Our first stop was The Modern. This is a fairly new, open-feeling restaurant with a large bar that is attached to MOMA in Manhattan. MOMA Museum members get a 10% discount at the bar and Bar Room from 3 - 5 PM. It’s a pretty hip looking place with a Modernist designer vibe that’s very appropriate to the location. There are three sections to the place: long bar, extensive table seating in the bar lounge and a dining room in the back separated from the other areas by a wall. There’s music in the background, but it’s low enough to allow easy conversation.

The Modern has a by-the-glass wine list with 23 selections. Their list includes 6 wines from California. They were most all from the South Central Coast area, with just the house Cab from Northern California. Included on the list were:

Beckmen Vineyards “Purisma Vineyards” Marsanne 2006, $9 glass/$36 bottle

Au Bon Climat Santa Barbara Chardonnay 2007, $14/$56

Palmina Santa Barbara Dolcetto 2007, $12/$48

Rozak Vintners “Rozak Ranch” Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir 2005, $28/$112

The mODErn Napa Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, $14/$112 (magnum, “own brand”)

Ojai “Roll Ranch” Central Coast Syrah 2004, $28/$112

We didn’t get a chance to try the whites, though we’ve had them before and know they’re good. We sampled each of the reds and our favorite was the Ojai. It is opaque ruby to purple in color and as dark at the rim as the core. It leaves darkly pigmented legs on the side of the glass when you swirl it. The nose is medium plus in intensity and gives plum, prune and dark berry fruit with peat and smoke. It’s dry on the palate with full body, moderate acidity and medium plus alcohol and tannins. The flavors are crushed dark berry fruit, vanilla, leather and cherry tobacco. It’s a very good wine with a medium plus finish and goes very well with grilled lamb chops. It’s about $48/bottle from online wine sellers, which gives you a sense of the markup at Modern.

The food in The Modern’s Bar Room is very good. Its based on small plates, but doesn’t follow any other particular theme. The largest dishes are considered to be half the size of a typical main course. We tried Fresh Grilled Shrimp with green cabbage and gruyere salad, Roasted Long Island Duck Breast with peppercorn-crusted apple and toasted pistachio-truffle dipping sauce, Gaeta Olive-Crusted Quail with chorizo, barley, toasted almonds and pickled pearl onions, and Beer Braised Pork Belly with sauerkraut and ginger jus. Everything was delicious with the duck and pork belly being particularly exquisite.

While the dishes are tasty, the tab can mount up pretty quickly as many of those “large” dishes and even some of the smaller ones can exceed $20. It is a dangerous place to go if you’re really hungry... or thirsty. That said, it is a nice and cool but friendly place to stop for a quick bite or two after hitting the museum and a good place to meet up with friends before heading out for an evening on the town or at the theatre.

The more formal dining room menu offers a lot very enticing selections. Alas, we didn’t get a chance to try any. You can order ala carte, go with a 3-course prix fixe meal at $88 or enjoy one of the much more extensive seasonal testing menus for up to $138. There is optional course-by-course wine pairing for an additional $115.

The Modern is located at 9 W 53rd St. and the phone is (212) 333-1220. We actually dropped by twice, once for food in the Bar Room and once to just enjoy glasses of wine at the bar. We would recommend making reservations if you plan to eat, especially for the Dining Room. We enjoyed The Modern and recommend it, though the pricing makes it a “splurge.”

This article is original to Copyright 2009 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.