The woman who turned Roberta’s into one of the city’s most interesting restaurants for wine is taking the helm at Bar Boulud and Boulud Sud — a high profile, fine dining sommelier job after sommelier Michael Madrigale’s trendsetting eight-year run. Amanda Smeltz developed the wine program both at the hip Bushwick pizzeria and tasting menu restaurant Blanca for over four years. Her focus on natural wines and less common options like orange wines gave Roberta’s a reputation for having a wine list as colorful as its pizza. She now has to wear a suit to work — "You have to," she says. "I dressed like a scumbag for five years straight, you know what I mean?" — but her ethos of accessibility and independent wine making will continue on the Upper West Side, she says.
Smeltz started a few weeks ago and has slowly been making her additions to the wine list at the two restaurants. She thought she would be staying at Roberta’s for new projects, but her role and the direction changed after the group started working out an ownership deal with millionaire Michael Tisch, she says. Smeltz still lives in Bushwick and plans to stay in the neighborhood, but taking over Madrigale’s old job meant a lot. She now gets to play with both the expensive, legacy wine cellar that he built over years of work and the newer, more affordable wines that she became known for highlighting at Roberta’s. "People don’t just drink expensive wine here," Smeltz says of Boulud Sud and Bar Boulud. "There are people who sit on the patio and pound rose all summer. I know a lot about that."
She already has a few changes and ideas up her sleeve. Bar Boulud, which focuses on French wine, will eventually also offer a slew of domestic "cousin" wines, or wines made in the U.S. that use the same grapes. "A lot of Americans have a chip on their shoulder about domestic wine not being as good," she says. "It’s totally not true, at all." And the staff wine class she became known for at Roberta’s will be starting at the Boulud restaurants in a couple of weeks. Everyone, including people like food runners who don’t necessarily need to know about wine for their job, will be welcome.
Still, she respects Madrigale’s legacy and will be keeping up with things like his affinity for Burgundy and Mediterranean wines. The two have had a couple long conversations, and she says he’s kept an open door to her as she transitions. Despite the culture difference between the Boulud restaurants and Roberta’s, she doesn’t see it as being a totally different world. "That’s setting up fake boundaries in dining that don’t make any sense to me," she says. "That stuff is falling away in dining."