Actually, Broder’s Terzo Vino Bar isn’t an Italian restaurant. It’s an Italian wine bar, with a 1,000-bottle all-Italian wine cellar, and more than 40 wines by the glass (or half-glass.) The kind of place where you might stop for a glass of Amarone and a small plate or two, after putting your name in for a table across the street at Broder’s Pasta Bar. I’m a big fan of the Pasta Bar, and so are lots of other people—I’d go there more often if it weren’t for the no-reservations policy. (Which I understand—I just don’t like to wait.)
On first view, Terzo is stunningly romantic. The windowless whitewashed walls and exposed incandescent bulbs encased in glass carafes give the ground-level restaurant the feel of a wine cellar in Tuscany. While the Pasta Bar offers simple Italian pasta dishes prepared skillfully and authentically, Terzo aims for something more sophisticated—with starters such as pistachio-crusted frog leg with preserved lemon and cucumber emulsion ($5) or a plate of chilled veal with tuna emulsion, caperberry, agrumato and anchovy ($12). There are a few piatti (main courses) on the menu, but the emphasis here is on small plates: cicchetti (snacks), verdure (vegetables), cheeses, salumi (cured meats), bruschetti, and small plates of seafood. Reportedly, chef Danny Broder recently spent eight months in northern Italy, studying and polishing his skills.
Our server brought the terrine of the day, duck (actually duck, chicken livers and pork, $6) without any bread, so I asked for some, and it was promptly brought to the table. I asked whether this had been an oversight, and was told that no, while bread is available on request, the chef does not want customers to fill up on bread, so it is not provided routinely. That makes sense as part of a business plan, especially if you want your customers to migrate over to the Pasta Bar for another round of eating, but it does not make sense gastronomically. Pate, salty prosciutto, fatty mortadella, and cheeses are all made to be eaten with bread. (At least, that’s my humble opinion. My dental hygienist just informed me that on her recent tour of some top California restaurants, she encountered several places where charcuterie and cheese platters were presented with little or no bread.)
The food was fine. Our bruschetta del giorno, a single slice of grilled bread topped with fior di latte mozzarella and sauteed morels was a tasty morsel – though the more morels I eat, the more I wonder what all the fuss is about. I was impressed that this was not just plain old mozzarella, but fior di latte mozzarella, until I Googled and discovered that “Fior di latte designates mozzarella made from cow (and not water buffalo) milk, which greatly lowers its cost.”
The fried baby artichokes were also quite tasty: four small hearts, tender on the inside, their outermost leaves fried crispy, on a bed of lemon aioli. I was less taken with the grilled radicchio with balsamic vinegar and pine nuts. From the selection of frutti di mare we chose the chilled seafood salad—morsels of shrimp, squid, bay scallops and octopus, in a light and lively vinaigrette. The pate was just fine, too: four slices of a coarse pate, dotted with morsels of pistachio, served with a small puddle of something vaguely balsamic. A little more embellishment would have gone a long way—perhaps some cornichons, a fine mustard, a dollop of fig jam, a drizzle of something agrodolce.
The real highlights of the dinner were the last two dishes we ordered: the fish entree of pan-seared cobia served in a nuanced broth with smoked little-neck clams, fennel, fregola (like couscous), tomato and preserved lemon ($15), and a perfect panna cotta, accompanied by a lemon sorbetto and macerated strawberries.
All in all, a very enjoyable light dinner, though the tab—nearly $110 including tip—seemed a bit steep for a casual bite at a wine bar. (We could have spent a lot more if we had really attacked the wine list, but I just had a couple of 10 ounce glasses of beer, and Carol sampled a glass and two half-glasses of moderately priced wines.) Next time, I’m going to just order a couple of cheeses, a couple of the meats, and a plate of olives, maybe a mixed salad—and plenty of bread.
Read Broder’s Pasta Bar…finally (Venora Hung, 2011)