You’re going to have to suck in and ruffle a few feathers to squeeze into this tiny new wine bar-resto — Ruffian‘s space is snug. But if you manage to snag a seat at the bar without elbowing someone, you can breathe a sigh of relief– and, while you’re at it, breathe in the garlic sizzling on the stove in front of you.
With the margins for restaurant spaces seemingly shrinking even more than we thought possible, apparently the electric kitchen is having a moment. Like fellow newcomer Excuse My French!, Ruffian puts its two chefs out in the open, doing controlled contortions normally hidden from view: shucking mussels, trimming micro-greens, grilling wonderful-smelling marinades.
“There’s certainly something special about seeing the person who envisioned the dish carry it out themselves, and you get to do that in person,” said Patrick Cournot, the owner, gesturing to his chefs, Josh Ochoa and Andy Alexandre. “We don’t have a secret kitchen – this is the whole thing!”
This is a place where you’ll probably feel the owner’s touch on everything. Cournot, who has spent the last decade toiling in the upper echelons of the city’s restaurant industry (Bouley, Artisanal, Tabla, Dell’Anima) is a maniac for details — from the wine list to the wine-organization system, he’s dreamed about the mechanics of running his own spot for a long time. The whole bar has the glow of a well-loved maiden voyage restaurant, with dim lighting, golden touches and a painting of a horse by Cournot’s artist wife.
Even the bar is specifically designed to Cournot’s vision of how wine should be viewed. “I love wine with different colors – rosé wine, orange wine,” he explained. “And a wooden bar makes it really hard to see the colors.”
So he had a skatepark designer pour 3,000 pounds of concrete into a mold, carve out an ice well in the corner, and finish it all off with epoxy wax. The result is a grainy, eggshell-colored surface with reflective qualities, perfect for maximum wine-color appreciation (or on a quiet day, skateboarding?).
Ochoa and Alexandre (recently of OTB and Marlow & Sons) are Cournot’s old friends from Tabla. Ochoa used to work the fish line, Alexandre the meat, and Cournot would run food out to the tables. By now, they operate like a seamless crew.
The menu is, of course, seasonal. Every day they mix it up based on what they find, making the rounds to Essex Street Market, Union Market, Ottomanelli’s and the Union Square greenmarket. The dishes (so far) lean European with explorations into Asian and Indian spices and flavors — quail with greens, lentils and pickled mushrooms or beets with citrus and tofu, for example. But you never know what the chefs will be cooking up next.
Ruffian Wine Bar and Chef’s Table, 125 East 7th Street. Monday- Saturday 5 p.m.-12 a.m., Closed Sunday