New Paltz’s new Italian wine bar offers an artful mix of the classic and the innovative with the best of the local and the imported. At the two-month-old Il Gallo Giallo (pronounced “eel gollo jollo,” meaning “the yellow rooster”), the consumables make palate and belly happy as the space invites you in with elegant décor that’s more cozy than snooty, and welcoming in a relaxed, amusing, even titillating way. At my first visit the wall in the ladies’ room made me laugh out loud. Check it out.
Gallo offers a high degree of flexibility, accommodating diners who want a quick drink and snack, those who want a full meal and everyone in between. Owner Darrin Siegfried and chef Ryan McClintock share a commitment to using locally sourced ingredients, from goat cheese to polenta to zucchini, honoring a region that is considered a market-basket area for New York City. “What you eat should taste like where you are, tell a story,” says McClintock.
But they’re not strict about being purely locavore, which I find refreshing these days, because I agree with them that, while local is best on many levels, there are certain items that are best when imported because they can’t be duplicated here, due to terroir, soil, climate. Think truffles, Tuscan olive oil or prosciutto di Parma.
This flexibility carries over to a large menu of much variety. While the emphasis is on small plates to go with wine, you can go from plain to fancy. So you’ll be happy if your tastes veer toward comfort food like Nonna’s lasagna or just a burger (grass-fed, on ciabatta) and a beer (Peroni on tap, of course), or toward cutting-edge nose-to-tail, like roasted marrow bones from Gardiner’s Kiernan Farm’s naturally raised cattle, served with a salad of parsley, radishes, grapefruit, capers and shallots.
But it’s not all about the food. Il Gallo Giallo is a wine bar, so the food is there not just to enhance the experience, but to enhance the wine as well. There are a couple of dozen kinds of wine available by the glass, at a very reasonable range of $7 to $12, many more by the bottle (Wednesdays half-price) and even a couple of wine flights where you can taste four kinds for the price of one. There’s also that Peroni on tap, and a variety of local liquors as well.
Owner Siegfried knows his stuff, winewise. He grew up in the restaurant business and has logged in countless hours as chef and sommelier both. Called “the Dean of American Sommeliers,” Siegfried trained with Kevin Zraly at Windows on the World, and served on the US team at the Concours Mondial, the international “wine olympics.” He has been a sommelier at world-class, award-winning restaurants like C.T. (Claude Troisgros) and has operated his own wine shop in New York. He has served as president of the Sommelier Society of America, and, as its education director, has trained more than 1,800 wine captains.
When I visited Il Gallo Giallo recently, Siegfried and McClintock generously offered me some tastes of their fine wine-pairing fare. My favorite was the cazunziei, a northeast Italian-style ravioli ($13), this version delicate, transparent tissue-thin pasta triangles filled with deep red moons of beet, then gilded with pistachios and brown butter: sublime. Ravioli variations will probably get a two-month run, they told me, so as we speak this incarnation will morph soon into something else – perhaps something stuffed with sweet potato and a hint of mostarda di Cremona, a spiced sweet condiment with chunky fruit bits and mustard seed, then topped with crumbled amaretti cookies.
Nearly as wonderful was one of their bruschette ($7 for three), this one topped with creamy house-made ricotta and pesto, each taking up its own diagonal space on the bread, the pesto balancing the cheese dreamily. A lovely octopus salad ($7) – I am a huge fan of cephalopods, and this was Heaven – featured tender baby octopi with shaved fennel, mandarin orange bits and Kalamata olive.
There is a rotating roster of entrée comfort-food specials ($16 to $21) like braised lamb shank with mint gremolata and risotto on Tuesdays and Sicilian seafood stew over fregola on Fridays. I tasted a Thursday special: savory braised pork ribs with coarse polenta from Wild Hive Farm in Clinton Corners.