Wine and Chocolate-But No Pajamas
Ayza Wine and Chocolate Bar rescues the two from sad-lady status
If we have learned anything from Cathy cartoons, yogurt commercials and the Bridget Jones oeuvre, it's that women are fickle, self-loathing creatures caught in a perpetual cycle of denial and punishment. They use words like "indulge"; food is either "guilt-free" (carrot sticks) or "decadent" (meat, cheese, bread, sweets, etc.). They drink too much wine (straight from the bottle, if no men are looking). And if there were no consequences, they would eat nothing but chocolate.
It's a shame, because few foods are as well paired as wine and chocolate. Think of a full, tannic rioja with fruity, bittersweet chocolate; light, semi-dry prosecco with rich milk chocolate. Both have layers of flavor that come out in the tasting; both can reveal markedly different characteristics when matched up in different combinations. Both have serious connoisseurs who talk about things like terroir and vintage-it's about time both were rescued from the stereotype of the Hungry Lady.
Ayza Wine and Chocolate Bar, which just opened a location in the West Village at 1 7th Ave., aims to right this wrong stealthily, presenting a dimly lit, red-lined interior and kitty cat logo to lure in unsuspecting Girls' Night Out-ers. It is possible to get in and out of Ayza with your Sex and the City delusions intact-cocktails are adorably named, and a sub-species of drinks are made with chocolate but called martinis-but you'd miss the point entirely.
The bar aims to be everything to everyone, a useful approach when you're out with a group, some of whom may be more Bartles and Jaymes than barolo. Unfortunately, this leads to a long, distracting menu, columns running into columns of wines, cheeses, chocolates, appetizers and items to dip into the chocolate fountain that runs perpetually behind the bar, all prefaced by the instruction to choose three or four or six or eight. You may have to be the one to rally the troops behind a plan of action and remember everyone's selections when it comes time to order, or you'll end up staring blankly at one another, asking, "What looks good to you?"
It's a low-pressure job, though. Even if you end up Bible-dipping your way through the menu, pointing at random and deciphering the results later, you'll be satisfied. Try to remember to get the mushroom pita tart, a tiny round that beats you over the head with the umami from the mushrooms, two kinds of cheese and truffle oil. Any cheese will do you well, as will any charcuterie; pretzels and raspberries in the dark chocolate fountain are a perfect balancing act of sweet, salty and fresh.
But man cannot live on snacks alone. There will come a point in the evening-or at the outset, if you're a responsible adult-when you realize that substantial food is needed. Ayza's entrées keep the throughline of sweetness but reduce it to a minor chord, playing against savory melodies in a number of composed dishes.
High-class ingredients are presented with just enough elements to make a plate interesting without coming across confused; a special served barely seared scallops atop kale purée, bright and smoky, alongside dehydrated kale leaves, raw jicama batons and a fine dice of strawberries. The jicama and scallops played off each other, fresh and crisp, creamy and saline, while the sweetness of the fruit enlivened the earthy purée. Cocoa-braised short ribs were more mole than Hershey's, the bitter chocolate used as a dark undertone to the tender beef.
Chocolates are sourced and credited as the wines are, with attention paid to provenance and maker. An edited list from Jacques Torres and Martine's has been chosen to pair especially well with the wines; try Martine's milk chocolate-covered butterscotch caramel with a French muscat or Torres' dark chocolate-coated espresso ganache with an Argentinean malbec.
Oh, and if someone wants to order a round of chocolate martinis? Don't fight it; they're actually pretty good-like a light, deceptively boozy chocolate milk. Now that's something everyone can get behind.
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