West Village wine bar where the food almost outweighs the bottle

It’s a new era for New York wine bars that will be more sophisticated (and often more expensive) than the wine bars of a decade ago.

Today, places like Claude’s and Chambers offer ambitious cuisine. The food is so good it threatens to overshadow the wine. These new establishments feature menus with an emphasis on French cuisine and an extensive menu of appetizers made with seasonal, local ingredients. No burgers or nachos, but plenty of creative salads, seafood, and minimal meat entrees. Claude’s escargot fritters and chicken with foie gras drip are just some of the frontiers of this new menu.

A woman in front of a dark-gray storefront discussing her mobile phone.

Justine’s is located on the corner of the West Village.

Six weeks ago, the Justins popped up at 518 Hudson Street, near No. 10 in the West Village. When it comes to wine, it has its edge. Restaurateur Justin Rosenthal is the daughter of prominent wine importer Neil Rosenthal. That’s reflected in her selection of 45 traditional French wines, split evenly between whites and reds. Some flaunt their age, and there are quite a few bottles in the $40 to $60 range. The wine-by-the-glass list for the night included nine, and I started with Maurice Scheck’s 2017 Grand Cru Kefferkopf Riesling ($20). Its subtle citrus fruitiness was like finding a crystal in the middle of a geode.

A hand is holding up a bottle with an ornate label.

How often can you drink a good Riesling?

The dining room is dark and club-like, with bars taking up the entire wall. It’s hard to imagine it was a Starbucks until recently, but now, instead of steaming milk, you can hear the delicate clatter of wine glasses. A settee is set up along the opposite wall, under a sconce that provides enough light to judge the color of the wine. The seats across from the chaise longue are plush to snooze at, a stark contrast to the hard stools and metal-backed chairs at many wine bars. When you order a glass of wine, the shop wants you to really enjoy it.

I sat at a table by the front window and had a glass of wine (my companion went for an $18 Burgundy). Food now arrives through Chef Jeanne Jordan, who previously worked at Mass Farmhouse. Innovative cuisine also quickly established a dialectic with wine. If you’re used to eating breaded and fried green tomatoes, the flavor of the tomatoes served as a raw carpaccio ($24) will surprise you with its earthy, firm flavor rather than squishy and sour. will be Thin slices soaked in oil resisted our attempts to move them from the plate to the mouth, to comical effect.

Green slices topped with olives and white cheese.

Green tomato carpaccio topped with ricotta cheese.

White mass with green and yellow dots on top.

Smoked crab and white fish arrive decorated with flowers.

Another dish, smoked crab and white fish dip ($30), was easy to eat when eaten with rice crackers. It sounds like something you’d find on a deli bagel, but what arrived was more nuanced, dressed up in flowers, and bursting with bittersweet flavors. Bitterness is seldom so welcome. For wine bars, bitterness is a boon that brings out the sweetness of the grapes.

The only disappointing dish we tried was the marinated squid with lime leaves, epazote and nduja ($27). The squid was honestly slimy with too many different flavors. Who could resist the height of asparagus? Here, it came with curry leaves and cashew nuts that were crushed to … nduja consistency.

Two crustaceans covered in yellow gravy.

Justine’s soft-shell crabs lean toward Thailand.

The best dish of the night was a pair of soft shell crabs ($55) drenched in a lemongrass-flavoured yellow sauce accented with mustard greens, which we devoured with delight. This dish was definitely a taste of Thailand. And there was also a hint of bitterness from the greens.

There are two desserts, brown and green.

Black sesame cake, cacao nibs and avocado mousse.

No, we didn’t like everything on Justine’s menu, but it was fun to challenge ourselves both gastronomically and intellectually. Admittedly, this is food for the discerning, a stark contrast to the frank, comforting menus of many restaurants. The interaction between wine and food is always at the center here.

We enjoyed 2 of the 3 desserts offered. Best of all was the Pandan Leaf Flavored Avocado Mousse ($16) filled with tiny eyes of basil seeds. This is his one of the few hints on the menu that the chef grew up in the Philippines. After dessert, we wanted to linger so we split a glass of Lucien Crochet’s 2012 Sancerre Rouge ($35), a region better known for its white wines than its reds. Dry as a freshly ironed shirt, with restrained tannins but still with a vibrant acidity, it turned out to be drinkable.

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