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Turning Tables: Finca Wine Opens in San Diego

Who’s behind it: Finca Wine is a new San Diego wine bar and shop from Dan Valerino and Joe Bower, the former general manager and sous chef, respectively, of Wine Spectator Best of Excellence winner Juniper and Ivy. The duo also operates Bottle Boon, a hospitality management company. Veteran toque Ricardo Dondisch heads Finca Wine’s culinary program.

When it opened: Feb. 8, 2024

Why you should know about it: Depending on how you look at it, Finca is either an exciting new wine bar and restaurant (with the perk of having a retail space) or it is a neighborhood wine shop that happens to offer food. Either way, it is a wine- and community-focused establishment serving tapas and a diverse range of affordable bottles. “We wanted a customer to come in and feel like ‘this is my place,'” said Valerino, who resides in the neighborhood. Finca can be a place to enjoy a full meal, have a quick bite with a glass of wine, or grab a bottle for home (at a minimal markup). The Finca Wine team is also developing a wine club with perks.

What’s on the wine list: Finca opened with 110 labels, but Valerino aims to grow the selection to about 180. The list exclusively features wines from Spain and California, with attention given to wineries practicing sustainable techniques, and almost all bottles are priced less than $100. “I think approachability on price point is absolutely relevant [in this era],” said Valerino. The restaurant serves 14 wines by the glass or half-glass, as well as Sherries and vermouths, including a vermouth made in-house.

[article-img-container][src=2024-03/turning-tables-finca-interior-032124_1600.jpg] [credit= (James Tran)] [alt= The dining room of Finca, with blue tiles and orange banquettes][end: article-img-container]

Selections like Vega Clara Ribera del Duero Dacán and Torres Cabernet Sauvignon Penedès Mas La Plana allow diners to explore leading Spanish estates, along with great values like Avancia Godello Valdeorras Old Vines ($51 in the restaurant or $36 retail).

Many of the list’s California wines show Spanish influences, as with Ridge’s Grenache Blanc or the Grenaches from Santa Barbara wineries Clementine Carter and A Tribute To Grace. Guests can also expect Golden State Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon.

If a customer wants to try a wine not on the by-the-glass list, Valerino said the team will open almost any bottle for the purchase of a glass; other guests can then purchase a pour from these open bottles, which are displayed behind the bar. Valerino also offers special discounts: For instance, if restaurant guests buy more than one bottle, whether to enjoy at the table or take home, they only pay the retail price for all the bottles, not the typical restaurant markup.

Culinary Approach: As with its wine program, Finca Wine offers value on its menu. “In this day and age, it seems like every restaurant is at an $80-per-head check average,” commented Valerino. Beyond approachability, Valerino also wanted the food and beverage selections to marry well. Tapas were a natural fit; Valerino pointed to favorites like grilled sunchokes with gochujang sauce and Parmesan, an extra-large duck confit croquette with cherry mustard dipping sauce, and fried chicken with caviar in a crème fraîche dressing, which guests can order with a glass of Cava for a seamless pairing.

[article-img-container][src=2024-03/turning-tables-finca-vermouth-032124_1600.jpg] [credit= (James Tran)] [alt= Servers pouring sweet and dry vermouth in an eclectic collection of cups][end: article-img-container]

The neighborhood: Finca Wine is located in North Park, an area northeast of downtown San Diego and bordering Balboa Park. According to Valerino, the neighborhood has had its ups and downs in recent years but is currently benefiting from a significant amount of investment, particularly in the hospitality sector.

The design: In an age of maximalism and Instagram-worthy decor, Valerino said, it was important not to lean too far into that style while still providing a comfortable and attractive space: “It’s an urban neighborhood, and we wanted it to feel like an urban restaurant; while it may be one of the ‘prettier’ restaurants in the area, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t have some edge.”

The 90-seat restaurant tilts industrial with exposed ceilings. Mismatched decorative plates and art created by Bower’s brother and Dondisch’s wife add whimsy to the space. Floor-to-ceiling windows bathe the dining room in sunlight, illuminating shades of orange and green. The centerpiece is a wrap-around bar that partially divides the bottle shop from the dining room, and a small patio adds outdoor seating.—Aaron Romano

Jean-Georges Vongerichten Opens Four Twenty Five in New York

Who’s behind it: Following about two years of anticipation, leading chef and restaurateur Jean-Georges Vongerichten opened his latest restaurant, Four Twenty Five at 425 Park Avenue in Manhattan. “This is a true full-circle moment for me,” Vongerichten told Wine Spectator via email. “In 1986, I began my New York culinary journey at Lafayette Restaurant in the Drake Hotel, steps away from [425 Park Avenue].”

France-born Vongerichten is an acclaimed figure in contemporary fine dining and leads a global restaurant empire that includes Wine Spectator Grand Award winner Jean-Georges (his flagship) in New York City, as well as Best of Award of Excellence winner the Mark Restaurant by Jean-Georges and his Award of Excellence–winning namesake in Philadelphia. In recent years, Vongerichten has also entered Nashville’s dining scene; and in 2022, he opened the Tin Building, a dining-retail destination in New York’s historic Seaport district.

[article-img-container][src=2024-03/turning-tables-425-pasta-032124-1600.jpg] [credit= (Hallie Burton)] [alt= A plate of spaghetti with sea urchin, garlic, lemon and pepperoncini next to a glass of red wine at Four Twenty Five in New York City][end: article-img-container]

When it opened: December 2023

The culinary approach: Culinary director Jonathan Benno oversees the cuisine, which draws from French, American, Italian and Asian influences. The à la carte and tasting menus include dishes such as Nantucket Bay scallop tartare, sauteed langoustines with kombu-herb butter, squash agnolotti in a brown butter vinaigrette, a seared Wagyu tenderloin and steamed black bass with mushrooms.

What’s on the wine list: Jean-Georges Management sommelier and wine director Rory Pugh and chef sommelier Jamie Cohen put together a 50-page wine list featuring about 1,200 labels, representing a 9,000-bottle inventory. Except for the cellar at his flagship, this is the largest wine inventory among Vongerichten’s restaurants. The main regional strengths are France’s Burgundy and Bordeaux, Italy’s Piedmont and California.

“The wine experience at Four Twenty Five fuses exploration and pleasure,” said Pugh, noting that many wineries in the program employ biodynamic or organic techniques. “Taking that a step further, we have done away with printing menus and offer a digital wine list to our guests.”

Throughout the list are well-known names such as Napa Valley’s Corison and Piedmont’s Elvio Cogno. Acclaimed wineries from other regions across the globe include Bergström in Oregon’s Willamette Valley and Egon Müller in Germany’s Mosel.

[article-img-container][src=2024-03/turning-tables-425-fish-032124-1600.jpg] [credit= (Hallie Burton)] [alt= Dish of pan-roasted sea trout with pumpkin seed gremolata, butternut squash confit and brown butter–mustard sauce from Four Twenty Five in New York City][end: article-img-container]

By the glass: More than 30 wines are served by the glass, including picks like Bourgogne Passetoutgrain (a blend of Pinot Noir and Gamay) from Robert Groffier and Rosso di Montalcino from Le Ragnaie, along with dessert wines such as Royal Tokaji Tokaji Late Harvest and Warre Vintage Port.

Alongside these wines are cocktails like an olive oil–washed Martini (made with Vongerichten’s own olive oil cuvée) and a spiced sidecar made with rye whiskey and Château de Pellehaut Armagnac.

Rarer gems: The list boasts vertical depth, with older vintages from leading Bordeaux châteaus such as Latour and Leoville-Barton, as well as Yquem and Climens in Sauternes.

The design: Architect Lord Norman Foster designed the restaurant’s two floors, which feature hand-finished wood elements and a collection of art pieces, including a 25-foot-long painting by Larry Poons. Two private dining areas can host wine-focused events.—Collin Dreizen

New York’s Anto Korean Steak House Team Adds Gori

Who’s behind it: Gori is a new chef’s counter located on the second floor of Anto Korean Steak House, a Best of Award of Excellence winner on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Chef Jeong Muk Kim is at the helm, and head sommelier Anibal Calcagno leads the wine program.

Why you should know about it: Kim is an acclaimed culinary figure in South Korea and was previously the head chef of fine-dining restaurant Myomi in Seoul. He became head chef at Anto in November 2023. Calcagno previously led wine programs at Best of Award of Excellence winners Indian Accent and Oceans, both in New York.

When it opened: January 2024.

The culinary approach: Kim brings his modern take on classic Korean cuisine to Anto’s à la carte lunch and dinner menus, and now at Gori he offers an even more elevated experience with a frequently changing tasting menu of 10 courses. Some recent dishes have included Dungeness crab with smoked trout roe and hamachi mulhwe (a spicy Korean fish soup), freshwater eel with a tricolor risotto and katsuo-butter foam, and Korean Wagyu with eggplant, ginseng and black garlic.

[article-img-container][src=/2024-03/turning-tables-anto-gori-counter-dishes-032124_1600.jpg] [credit= (Courtesy of Anto Korean Steak House)] [alt= A collection of dishes from Gori at Anto Korean Steak House][end: article-img-container]

What’s on the wine list: Calcagno offers pairings for each of the 10 courses, and the list changes with the menu. One mainstay is a blanc de blancs Champagne with the Dungeness crab. Calcagno suggests Korean rice wines for many of the dishes, such as pairing Sulseam’s Gamsa Blue Chungju with a truffle mushroom pancake and Shinpyeong’s White Lotus Makgeolli with freshwater eel and risotto.

The design: Like Kim’s menu, the design at Gori (meaning “connection” in Korean) fuses traditional and contemporary elements. The restaurant space is intimate and calm, with warm lighting from the recessed ceiling and wall fixtures, and upholstered high-top bar stools at the chef’s counter, where guests can observe and interact with Kim and his team as they prepare each course. The room is accented with statement pieces like a model of a geobukseon (meaning “turtle ship”)—a type of warship prominent in the Joseon kingdom that ruled the Korean peninsula between the 15th and 19th centuries—as well as a modern art installation depicting a Hibiscus syriacus, the national flower of South Korea, where it is known as mugunghwa.

There’s even more: Fans of Anto should stay tuned. The restaurant’s team is planning a second location, currently set for a spring 2024 opening in Midtown Manhattan. —Olivia Nolan

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