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Travel Tip: Top Wine Restaurants Adapt to Tough Times

Find out how three Grand Award winners are keeping great wines within reach

Nathan Wesley
Posted: March 28, 2011

Operating a restaurant during the past three years has not been easy. While the economy is slowly improving and some restaurants are reporting better numbers, staying afloat means rethinking menus and wine service. A trio of Wine Spectator's Grand Award winners—Veritas in New York, Michael Mina in San Francisco and Italy's Bottega del Vino—are revamping to appeal to today's value-conscious diners.

After a brief shuttering, a renovated Veritas has reopened with a new chef and a slightly larger wine list. "The restaurant was prohibitive for many people," said head sommelier Rubén Sanz Ramiro. Before, guests were limited to prix fixe menus and a wine list long on expensive collectibles.

Now setting the tone is a large, wooden communal table near the entrance, which also features blackboard-style walls and iron wine racks. Chef Sam Hazen, formerly of Tao New York and Tao Las Vegas, heads the kitchen, which offers a smart bar menu and à la carte choices in the main dining room, where entrée prices range from $24 to $39.

The wine list, however, remains mostly unchanged, offering more than 3,000 selections, though Ramiro has expanded the by-the-glass list as well as the restaurant's more-affordable market wine list, which now includes about 50 bottlings under $100.

Michael Mina's eponymous restaurant in San Francisco has reopened after relocating from the Westin St. Francis on Union Square Park to the former Aqua space on California Street, where Mina himself once presided over the kitchen.

Meanwhile, Mina has installed an outpost of his Bourbon Steak concept to take over the Westin location and its Grand Award-winning wine cellar, which is owned by the hotel. While the number of wine selections has dropped from 2,500 to 1,800 over the past year, Mina group wine director Rajat Parr said the steak house will continue the pristine wine service of the original Michael Mina. Parr has, however, changed the wine list's format to highlight selections that will complement various steak cuts, and he has added more value-oriented Cabernets.

Parr sees the redesigned Michael Mina as an opportunity to serve a broader clientele. The restaurant has forgone the formality of tablecloths and dropped its prix fixe-only policy in favor of an expanded à la carte menu. The wine list currently offers 500 selections, focusing on American producers. But Parr expects that number to double as he expands the list to spotlight Piedmont wines.

In Verona, Italy, Bottega del Vino has reopened under new ownership, a consortium of 12 Amarone producers and local rice producer Gabriele Ferron. The restaurant had closed in July amid an impasse among the previous owners. "Bottega del Vino is something that is really connected with our history and tradition," said Marilisa Allegrini, whose family's winery is a member of the consortium. "[We're] not there to sell wine, but to promote wine, and it will remain Bottega del Vino-not Bottega del Amarone." She added that the restaurant expects to roll out a new menu soon, but that the destination wine list will remain the same.

Bottega Del Vino
Verona, Italy; www.bottegavini.it
Grand Award since 2004

Michael Mina
San Francisco; www.michaelmina.net
Grand Award since 2005

New York; www.veritas-nyc.com
Grand Award since 2000

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