The Bowery has increasingly become a restaurant neighborhood in flux. Some new venues there, like Pearl & Ash, have found success, while others, like Pulino's and Veselka, have closed in short order after opening. What was Peels will soon morph into Bar Primi. One of the biggest wagers on the the future of the Bowery as a destination for diners was made back in 2009, when Daniel Boulud opened DBGB. That restaurant has seen steady business, but seems to be at a new stage in its own evolution, with a new head chef, a new general manager, and a new beverage director, all of whom assumed their duties there at about the same time, around four months ago.
Eduardo Porto Carreiro, who is now the beverage director at DBGB, has steadily garnered a strong following amongst the wine collectors and regular diners he has served since moving to New York from Los Angeles about two years ago. Eater spoke with Eduardo recently about his experiences so far with DBGB, which has meant more beer, certainly more sausages, and even more wine for him at the restaurant. What will the Bowery see more of in the future? Eduardo gives some hints.
How long have you been working at DBGB?
Since just before Christmas.
Given the size of the cellar, is your imprint starting to emerge, or does it still feel like an inherited list?
The biggest thing for me was getting used to the beer program too, because I'm doing both. So the first month was depleting the old list and making it very skinny and manageable. And then the second month I started bringing in things that I was excited about and the third month started to shift the way things were set up. Now, it's looking at it and being proud with what has been put together.
So you're doing both the beer side and the wine side?
Yeah, that was the biggest learning curve. It was a huge, tremendously humbling experience, thinking that I knew how to manage a beer program. I inherited this one and it was a behemoth. The first four, five, six weeks I really went back to the books to remember all the things I've learned in past years. That was the first big challenge. Whilst I was doing that, I was able to slim down the wine list. It became sort of a game of Sudoku, almost. I had to put all the years and bottles in place and then all of a sudden it felt like I had solved the puzzle.
How do you view the direction of the wine list today?
I think for a place like DBGB, it's important to remember what that spot is all about and what the guests that are coming in want to accomplish. My vision for the list is to have really good wine at every single price point. A great focus on the value regions of the world. When I inherited the list there was one Beaujolais on the list, but now there are probably 17 bottlings of Beaujolais on there. Practically all of them are under 70 bucks. There is a mishmash of natural producers as well as the more traditional producers, but the bottom line is that they are all respectful, honest and soulful winemakers and that is a sort of snapshot of what I want to do with the rest of the list.
Is the focus on French wines?
There is certainly a focus on France, but myself having spent so much time in California, I also want to give some love to the West Coast of the US. I think that the sort of extras on the side are going to be the little gems that I have found and fallen in love with, that are exciting and fun. They'll be alternatives that stay in line with that same philosophy, non-domestic and non-French. But I've also noticed our guests are really excited about Bordeaux.
What do you think is giving rise to the popularity for Bordeaux at the restaurant? Is it the food? Are people thinking burgers and sausages, so Cabernet?
Being that DBGB is the downtown, more laid back outpost of the Daniel Boulud empire, I feel as if we get lots of guests that like Café Boulud and Restaurant Daniel as well as guests that dig Bar Boulud, Boulud Sud, and DB Bistro. And a lot of those guests, especially those coming from, say, the Upper East Side, feel comfortable exploring the Bordeaux region. There is sort of a trickle down to their guests and kids and friends, and those guests are now coming in and asking for more Bordeaux. We have a few importers that are excited by second labels, organic, and biodynamic growers in the huge appellation of Bordeaux. Seeking those out, as well as more under the radar chateaux, is a fun challenge. I'm not saying that the focus of the list will go to Bordeaux, but it is interesting to see how much we go through of it. Especially those in an easy on the pocket book price point.
I would say that the majority of the guests are looking for wines that are easy to drink and pleasurable and I think that encompasses a huge amount of really cool wines out there, wines that speak to the philosophy of honest winemaking. Beaujolais has been a big hit here. The charcuterie program and the sausages offered here are so ridiculously delicious with Beaujolais, and we see guests coming back for that already. In terms of Burgundy, I am veering away from the Côte de Nuits and the super expensive stuff. I'm trying to find a few satellites, and the Bourgogne level bottlings from awesome producers. I think that a lot of this list was built around the fact that when I go out to eat I don't like to spend more than $75 on a bottle of wine. I feel that far too many restaurants in the city are super top heavy and don't give a lot of love to bottles in the $50 to $70 range. I wanted to have a nice presence of fun bottles that are more off the beaten path in those price points. The parallel between those wines and the more esoteric craft beers is apparent because we sell really obscure beers and quirky things every night that one doesn't usually see offered by a restaurant. It's pretty neat to see everyone rallying behind the exciting and different while appreciating the classics and the old standbys.
So you feel that the venue gives you a means to explore both the lesser known items and the classics?
Yeah, I would say that the whole situation, being a Daniel Boulud restaurant but being a more tavern-style sort of spot, has really given the beverage program a lot of freedom. The menu lends an ability to pair anything. From the great raw bar and the plateaux we offer it is exciting to go crazy with the Loire valley whites and grower Champagne and leaner Austrian producers and richer German producers. The charcuterie program, the sausages, are a sommelier's dream. Frankly, the guests are excited to try different stuff. For someone coming in drinking a Bordeaux, to someone coming in drinking Beaujolais, every night we have folks choosing from the classics and choosing from the lesser acknowledged regions as well. And there are those looking for the natural producers from the Jura and the Languedoc, or checking out the orange wines we have on the list.
As I recall, the beer sales of the restaurant dwarf the wine sales, is that still the case?
In the past few months, we've sold more wine than beer.
Do you see that as a big shift for the restaurant?
I don't know, I mean we sell a lot of draft beer. In terms of our beer program, we have 22 draft lines and 100 bottles, and the majority of beer sales are on the draft side. We've been selling more wine than beer this last quarter and our bottle sales have gone up a lot, versus just glasses. I don't know if that has to do with more bottles under 70 bucks, or if it was the end of the year and folks wanted to splurge on more than a glass. It's pretty neat to see the amount of wine that's going out there. It's still a good balance. We're still selling 200 beers a night, but that means we're selling 50-80 bottles of wine a night just cranking it out on a busy Saturday night. It's got me running on the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights.
Has keeping up with the beer rotation been a learning curve?
Having done wine since 2004, for me I was excited to take over the wine program and thought that I could totally get the beer thing really quickly. I have had beer experience working for a group that was very beer focused in LA, but I'd never been in charge of so many beers, so that was an "ah-ha" moment and I certainly called on a lot of folks just to help me understand it. The staff and Jon Langley and my reps and old beer mentors from back west really helped me in my cramming to feel comfortable with that. The first few months, learning how to order draft beer was a very humbling experience, but it is certainly something that I'm getting better at every week and I hope to do fluently soon.
Has the beer menu changed somewhat?
I am benefiting a lot from Jon Langley's buying — he set up a great beer program. The big thing that I did when I inherited the list, the beverage menu itself, was revamp the structure of both the beer list and the wine list. Before, the beer list was all split up into countries. What I did was spend a lot of hours sifting through those countries and getting all those beers their styles, then I divided the beer list into those styles. Now you have different countries within one style, but you can compare and contrast the beers in a much easier way . It becomes, at least to me, a lot more clear to the guest how to read the beer list.
And then with regards to the draft list, there used to be two columns: ales and lagers. So what I did was split it all up and gave different categories of tasting notes like refreshing, hoppy, malty, tart, and experimental. I'm doing seasonal offerings. The draft list is easier to navigate, because someone can sort of just look at it and not just see a long list, they can hone in on the styles that they are more drawn to and pick from there. I also inherited a keg room with a dozen small kegs that were aging. We recently started a little selection on draft called "From the Cellar," and we're finally putting on these beers that have been in keg for a year, or over a year depending on the beer, and it's a really neat experience to see how beer ages. I'm looking forward to, also in the next quarter, putting a page together of bottled beers that are from the cellar and sharing the vintage stuff on the ale side with beer geeks and beer lovers.
What's the taste of an aged beer? What's the difference between that and a fresh beer?
There are several styles that lend themselves to aging. One that does well with bottle age are sour beers. The really intense Belgian lambics, specifically a lambic called a gueuze, which at times can be horrifically intense and to certain people can be off-putting in terms of its sourness. Myself being a big Riesling fanatic and a huge no dosage Champagne lover, I am also a big fan of sour beers. But at times you do need some mitigation for those sour beers in the same way that you would add some dosage to some Champagnes, and it would taste better with the dosage than the non-dosage version. The sour beer, once it's had some time to simmer down and age in bottle, actually integrates a lot more. The tartness sort of drops away and the beer becomes less shriekingly sour, and a really fantastic beverage. Aged sours are sort of mind-blowing to me and to a lot of folks that I drink them with and share them with, and they can be one of the more cool pairings for oysters that I've come across.
Another style of ale that is really fantastic with age is a big, burly, high-alcohol stout or barleywine. The English have been doing it forever, aging ales. Essentially the difference between a youthful imperial stout versus an aged imperial stout is that it has slightly less carbonation, the extreme bitterness mellows out, the tannins really start to soften, and all of the components become a bit more seamless. So you get a creamier, more subtle beer. Different styles of beer age in different ways, much like wine. And they provide different kinds of pleasure. Some people just want to go for fresh, fresh, fresh, and some people really prefer the old. We're trying to have things that work for everyone. I would say this, though: The thing that I'm thrilled about on the opposite side of the spectrum of aging is how important freshness is for some beers. There's nothing like a really crisp, just kegged IPA, because you have the most extreme, fresh expression of those hops. They're really bright and so aromatic and so mesmerizing. If that same keg or bottle is kept for two months then all those pretty aromatics fade away. The half-life of hops is extremely short. That is something that beer aficionados are very in tune with.
Have you found that people approach beer differently than they approach wine? Are the cultures different for beer buyer versus wine buyer in a restaurant?
That has been the biggest eye-opener for me. I thought that they would be different and my experience earlier had been that they are different, but the more I get to interact with the wine geek and the beer geek, I find that they are beautifully the same. Everyone is looking for the one off. Everyone is excited about the really small production beers, the more hand-crafted ales. It's really sweet to see how alike the two drinkers are. But I haven't had, at least not in the last few months, a lot of beer drinkers that want to dip into wine much. I'm finding a lot of wine drinkers wanting to dip into beer, which is super exciting because I can very much empathize with that. It's been neat to ride that roller coaster with fellow sommeliers who are visiting or winemakers who are in town. It's in an environment that people feel very comfortable sort of going for it and trying something different.
How do you feel that the restaurant fits into the Bowery?
I think having DBGB on the Bowery in the East Village, right near Houston, has certainly informed a lot of the culture of that restaurant and the culture of the guests who come in. There are the folks from the other Daniel restaurants and fans of Daniel Boulud that check it out, to see what a DB hot dog or his variety of burgers taste like. I also find there are lots of folks who are regulars in the neighborhood who are just enjoying it. I want to say that I'm starting to see an influx of folks who are really in tune and savvy on the wine front. I think a lot of that has a lot to do with our neighbors. Just a couple blocks down is Pearl & Ash, and just around the corner is L'Apicio. We're going to have a new restaurant in the Pulino's space, a new French restaurant is going in there. So I think as more restaurants populate that stretch of the Bowery and this little corner of Manhattan that people are going to become more attracted to DBGB and rediscover it as well. I think that for right now we have a beautiful mishmash of neighborhood regulars as well as folks who are actually going out of their way to see what DBGB is all about because of our association with Daniel.
Where do you see the list in a year?
Ideally, I want to put on a few more wines of good value with some more age on them. So I'm going to look for that. But I also want to give a little bit of love to some regions outside of France and the US that I think deserve love. For instance, to give the smaller growers of the cooler climates of Australia some love. I wanna give some Eastern European countries and wine regions that I worked a lot with on the West Coast some love, such as Hungary, Croatia, and Slovenia. I also want to flesh out the good values from Portugal and Spain because there are so many awesome wines coming out of Portugal and Spain that are appropriate for the food at DBGB. I think the international side of things outside of France and the US, although not a large part of the list, still needs a lot of work. That's something that I'm going to be shifting my focus to over the next few months.
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[Photo courtesy of Eduardo Porto Carreiro ]