New Yorkers have plenty to thank the French for: the Statue of Liberty, macarons and, yes, this sultry mouthful of a wine bar. Transplanting Paris’s cool-kid vino haunt to Little Italy, the crew behind Lower East Side drinkery the Experimental Cocktail Club swaps jiggers and shakers for champagne sabers at this 70-seat marble-and-brass charmer, a youthful answer to the dusty, august oenophile dens of yore. There are no bookish tasting notes, no sniff-and-swirl pomposity or starchy white cloths draped over the sommelier’s arm—just 600 topflight bottles ready for drinking and, oh yeah, one killer toad-in-the-hole.
ORDER THIS: As the spot’s unwieldy name suggests, Gallic varietals are the unabashed focus of the 21-page menu which traipses through the Loire Valley, the Jura Mountains and big-name wine country (Bordeaux, Burgundy). But among the usual winemaking suspects are small-batch selections from up-and-coming vino locales like Slovenia, Morocco and Israel’s Judean Hills, plucked by wine director Fabien Suquet (formerly of France’s famed Auberge du Vieux Puits). Bang-for-your-buck pours include Hungary’s floral-and-fruit Tokaj Hetszolo Hegyala dry furmint ($11) and the Sottimano Barbera d’Alba Bric de Salto ($11), a rich dolcetto from the Piedmont region of Italy.
GOOD FOR: Impressing your next Tinder date. The plush, low-slung banquettes, flickering candlelight and Nina Simone–heavy soundtrack go well with canoodling, while touches of grape geekery—an Enomatic system is employed to prevent spoilage and allow the bar to serve by the glass—will have your could-be boyfriend or girlfriend swooning over your wine-sipping worldliness.
THE CLINCHER: Most wine bars operate on the cheese-and-charcuterie model, but these pairing-ready eats are no afterthought. Chefs Armand Arnal (of the Michelin-starred La Chassagnette in Arles, France) and Tibor Kogler (Telepan, MP Taverna) buddy up for the thoughtful small-plates menu, serving tender seared octopus brightened with lemon yogurt ($14); tuna tartare studded with roasted baby beets ($15); and a decadent toad-in-the-hole—a duck egg embedded in crusty sourdough and finished with roasted mushrooms, truffle butter and salty ribbons of jamón ibérico ($12). It’s sensual, shareable food—with an inhibition-nixing bottle of wine, you and your date are bound for another kind of Frenching.—Christina Izzo