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Tribeca Grill

In a Lower Manhattan hotspot, wine takes center stage

Matthew DeBord
Posted: September 11, 2002

Co-owner Drew Nieporent, chef Don Pintabona, wine director David Gordon and managing partner Martin Shapiro (from left)
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Tribeca Grill has a secret. The Lower Manhattan stalwart, co-owned by Robert De Niro and restaurateur Drew Nieporent, harbors an exciting wine cellar in its snug, serpentine basement.

Bathed in blistering rays of ultraviolet hip when it opened in 1990, Tribeca Grill has mellowed sturdily with age. There's still a chance that you'll bump shoulders with a sunglassed Helen Hunt over by the coat check. But otherwise, the high-ceilinged, comfortable restaurant is the most easygoing member of Nieporent's Wine Spectator Grand AwardÐwinning trio, which includes neighboring Montrachet and San Francisco's Rubicon. Tribeca Grill's massive wooden bar, salvaged from New York's legendary Maxwell's Plum, gathers a lively mix of local artists, Wall Street brokers, film industry hotshots and fun-seeking singles.

This effortless demographic integration builds an ideal platform for an ambitious but still inviting wine list. Wine has always been taken seriously here; the restaurant has held the Best of Award of Excellence since 1998. But only recently did longtime wine director David Gordon, with Tribeca Grill since the very beginning, decide to expand the list to showcase the full breadth of his acquisitions. Where there were 65 selections in 1992, there are now 1,450, drawn from three separate cellars that shelter a total of 20,000 bottles.

The list is patriotic: California Cabernet, and more California Cabernet. There is an entire section devoted to the "great 1994 and 1997 vintages." Says Gordon, unapologetically: "We're an American grill, that's where our focus is." But there's no way that this guy will gouge Golden State enthusiasts. For every pricey Harlan Estate or Screaming Eagle, there is a 1974 Simi Reserve at $185 or a 1982 Beringer Private Reserve for $160.

Nor does Gordon skimp on required reading: Important Bordeaux bottlings are maintained regardless of cost. "If there's something we absolutely must have, we'll do what it takes to get it," he says.

And get it they do. Lafite, Latour, Mouton and Margaux are all available in the coveted 1982 vintage. The very scarce 1961 Latour ($2,600) is also present, as is a 1900 Margaux, the oldest and, at $9,000, most costly wine on the list.

Grand cru Burgundy is well-represented, too; the Bonneau du Martray Corton-Charlemange 1990 ($160) is De Niro's favorite. Gordon's personal passion, Rhône reds, receive top billing, with a selection that includes everything from Château Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape 1990 ($700) to Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage 1978 ($600) plus a full page from the Southern Rhône's "great 1998 vintage."

"Greats" are a Gordon specialty: two pages are dedicated to the "great 1990 vintage," in honor of the restaurant's founding year. There's something for everyone here, DRC Romanûe-Conti 1990 ($5,000) sharing space with E. Guigal La Turque 1990 ($525), Penfolds Grange 1990 ($550), and a magnum of Caymus Special Selection 1990 ($850). Gordon finishes the list with a Wine Spectator Wine of the Year page. Yes, they have all of them, back to 1988.

There's nothing all that fancy about executive chef Don Pintabona's food, but like Pintabona himself, the menu oozes integrity. His crispy lemon chicken is the kind of dish that a regular might eat for lunch at least once a week. More flagrant carnivores will probably be drawn to the herb-crusted Colorado rack of lamb, or to the grilled filet of beef, a tender hunk topped with onion rings the size of donuts. There's fish, too. And pasta.

The paparazzi have moved on, but Tribeca Grill endures. For wine lovers, it's a downtown bastion of simple good times, a place that takes a casual attitude toward everything but quality.

Tribeca Grill
375 Greenwich st., New York, NY 10013
Telephone (212) 941-3900
Wine Selections 1,450
Number of Bottles 28,000

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