As you probably noticed, natural wines have become a thing over the last few years, propelled by buzzwords like biodynamic, unfiltered, and additive free. For wine drinkers, this is a good thing, because it means a much broader palette of flavors acceptable in wine; indeed, qualities once deemed defects can now be celebrated. Barely fizzy? Slightly skanky? Unrepentantly sour? Strangely tinted? Sedimenty? No one is bothered by these qualities anymore, except perhaps wine traditionalists.
This shake up in the restaurant industry has created all sorts of opportunities, not only to sell wines for which there was little market before, but to encourage viniculture practices aimed at preserving the environment. And, to be cynical for a moment, it offers dealers and restaurateurs an opportunity to sell wines that might have once been considered inferior in drinkability.
But while wine lists quickly came to reflect this new interest in natural wines, the corresponding food menus have been struggling to keep up. Where once we had a good idea what to drink with a porterhouse steak (a saturated red), a serving of pad thai (an off-dry white), or a pan bagnat (a crisp rosé), now we are out to sea as to what to eat with many of these neophyte natural wines.
As such, the advent of L’Accolade on Bleecker Street in the West Village was welcome. It mounts a list focused on new and unusual wines, many at merciful prices. And, what’s more, the food menu has been carefully formulated to showcase these wines, mainly via invented dishes that offer a profusion of flavors and textures. No more meat and potatoes for this place!
L’Accolade sports a very plain dining room that emphasizes a marble-topped bar in front with vertical slats, and niches that run along the walls into the deep interior filled with wine bottles, in case you doubted the focus of the establishment. At least some of the staff is French, including the wine director Clément Lapeyssonnie. Indeed, L’Accolade has a sibling restaurant in Marseilles called La Parenthèse. Here though, the menu comes from chefs Ben Traver and Nate Kuester, who have experience at restaurants like the Modern and Aquavit, respectively.
The menu offers six snacks, five small plates, five main courses, and three desserts. The small plates ($14 to $16) are anything but small. The mains ($22 to $27) are even more substantial, but tend to be very low on carbs. The latter tend to arrive like colorful abstract paintings, a riot of elements on the plate. The duck, for example, appears to be neither the familiar confit leg or seared sliced breast, but is instead cut into logs with a crisp skin and tender pink interior.
The menu lists the duck’s companions as grapefruit, almonds, and fava leaves. (Who knew fava leaves were even edible?) But that’s just the beginning. There are actual fava beans, and a green puree that’s more foamy texture than flavor.
The contrast of elements in the duck entrée make a perfect context for a bottle of Laurent Cazottes’ Champetre Blanc ($43, or $39 during happy hour), an arrestingly dry, unfiltered white made from the local mauzac grape and indigenous yeasts, with a yellowish tint and a flavor that recalls unripe pears. Take a sip of wine, and then poke among the elements on the plate to see how each one goes with the wine’s unusual flavors.
The same technique might be applied with the chicken entrée, which lay in a pool of summer vegetables and fresh herbs that were like succotash on LSD. Our extreme selection for this entrée was a glass of Georgian wine made from a native grape called Iberieli, from the producer Zurab Topuridze ($14). It tasted so weird I’m at a loss to accurately describe it, the result of skin-on fermentation that produced an aggressive sourness that reminded me of a Belgian farmhouse saison. The entrée’s creamed corn, dill weed, and barely cooked zucchini served to mellow this wild wine out.
And so, on two occasions a friend and I hopscotched among the apps and entrees, which are offered prix fixe at the bargain of $38. There are two leafy salads featured — one with clumps of grains stuck together, and another with lentils so small and shiny they almost demanded a tweezers instead of a fork. There was also a fluke crudo with charred strawberries and fennel, and something called Parisienne gnocchi dotted with chicken that benefited from its flavoring of summer savory. Once again, pick a wine, and then compare it to each of the elements in the dish before you. It could be a parlor game called L’Accolade.
The restaurant is also a perfect place to dart in for a snack and glass of wine. The snacks are super satisfying and mainly involve an indulgence in carbs generally denied you in other menu sections. There are gougeres that ooze creamy cheddar cheese, and a cod brandade presented in the form of globular fritters in a piquant piquillo pepper sauce. A simple bowl of crushed and crisp fingerlings sit astride a thick herbal sauce subtler than pesto. These snacks are $10 to $14, but several are discounted to $8 during a happy hour from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., in which a shifting selection of wines is also offered at $10 each.
Yes, go during the happy hour one day and you might just be as charmed and intellectually challenged as I was by the food and drink at L’Accolade.