Pete Wells Finds the Glass Half Full at Racines NY
This week, Pete Wells gave Racines NY two stars and a review that reveals how much fun he can have, as it showcases one of his best attributes as a food critic: his humor.
He begins by taking a playful shot at the macaroon trend that has afflicted the city, suggesting that “there are other French ideas about eating that would benefit New York more than balloon-weight sandwich cookies in sidewalk-chalk colors. We could, for instance, use a few wine bars of the type that began sprouting around Paris about a decade ago.”
Racines NY is of this type, being the American outpost of two other locations in Paris. This one is owned by Arnaud Tronche, who is also the sommelier; David Lillie, also a partner in Chambers Street Wines; and David Lanher, who bought the first Racines from Parisian chef Pierre Jancou in 2009. The three men have kept the name and wine-centered focus of the eatery, but most everything else deviates from the ways of its French older siblings. The Racines in Paris, “poured only wines made without sulfur, which even most purists admit can keep good bottles from going bad. Mr. Jancou…could be intolerant of those who didn’t share the faith. If you thought one of his wines smelled like a running shoe filled with Gorgonzola, fine. You could go elsewhere and drink Bordeaux with the rest of the heathens.”
This deviation seems welcomed by Wells, as is the fact that the food served greatly surpassed the standard Parisian wine bar fare of charcuterie and terrines — perhaps due to the fact that the spot’s official category is “neo-bistro.” Chef Frédéric Duca, born and raised in Marseille, is admired in Paris for his work as the chef of L’Instant d’Or, but New Yorkers now benefit from his culinary skill. The food critic was extremely pleased by the chef’s choices and execution, apparent in his description of one of the appetizers he was served: “a length of barely seared wild salmon, the raw flesh inside the intense orange-red of a persimmon, with a scoop of cucumber sorbet and a schmear of warm cauliflower cream...[I]t was like watching summer and winter meet for the first time.” He communicates his delight in the culinary program and the choice made by the owners to poach a skilled French chef with his somewhat self-deprecating remark, “the menu is meant for dining, not snacking. Nor for sharing, either, although my attempt to keep my fork out of my wife’s plateful of whole, warm Oregon morels on a pool of half-liquid burrata failed miserably.”
Wells identifies just one misstep in the assembling of Racines NY: the décor and subsequent ambience. Although it doesn’t self-identify as a wine bar, guests continue to refer to it as such because of the physical plan, is the food critics guess, as the space’s focus is a on the large, open bar “which doesn’t have the sense of occasion you expect from a restaurant or bistro. In fact, it’s pretty generic.” He then draws two rather unflattering, yet comic comparisons of the décor: “Bottles, an easy and cheap decorative motif, are inexplicably absent from the shelves behind the bar’s barren white surface, which could be mistaken for the cosmetics counter at Barneys,” and “Not every French restaurant in New York needs to look like Bofinger, but does this one really have to look quite so much like a spread from the Restoration Hardware catalog?”
Still, the unremarkable interior aside, Wells is pleased and impress with the chef and his menu, as well as the sommelier and his skill, and concludes his review on a satisfied and silly note, “I ended up drinking a rich, almost tropical Sancerre from Sebastien Riffault, poured from a magnum; a dessert wine from François Pinon, a Vouvray with acidity and sweetness so closely balanced I found it hard to believe; a Reagan-era verdelho, a mere toddler as Madeiras go, that is one of the best companions for a cheese course I’ve ever met. Mr. Tronche could probably even find a wine to get me excited about macarons.”