Volume 75, Number 29 | December 7 - 13, 2005

Village Nibbler

By John McGarvie

Balducci’s is set to reopen imminently, in the landmark bank building on the northwest corner of 14th Street and Eighth Avenue, along the border of Chelsea and the West Village. I called Balducci’s headquarters in Maryland to get the exact date, but was told only that the store will open in December. They could not tell me the day, and I was not surprised. I walked by the location Thanksgiving week, and just by looking through the giant windows I could tell the renovation of the interior was nowhere near completion.

A week later I decided to snoop around the site again, but this time I talked to someone who knows what is going on inside the building: a construction worker. He told me the target date was December 14th, but was doubtful it would happen and again, I could see why. We were standing at the main entrance looking inside, and it was obvious that a lot of work remains. He also said Balducci’s wants the store open by Christmas. That goal seems more likely.

It will be great to have Balducci’s back in the neighborhood, but this time it faces stiffer competition. In my next column, I will examine how the 14th Street corridor, from Union Square to the Meatpacking district, has become a serious shopping destination for foodies. The old Balducci’s squandered a loyal clientele, including this former customer. I will be curious to see how the new Balducci’s fares.

While dining out recently I ordered a New Zealand sauvignon blanc from the wine list. The waiter brought over the bottle of Giesen, but instead of reaching for a corkscrew, he twisted off the top. This was the first time I had seen a screw top wine bottle in a restaurant, but the waiter told me it is no longer unusual. So off I went to Astor Wines and Spirits on Astor Place for an informal survey of its stock. Now, given the size of Astor’s sales floor, the percentage of screw tops is small. But one clerk told me the number of wineries replacing the traditional cork stopper with screw tops is growing. I saw them on wines from Australia, New Zealand, California, Germany, and even France. The clerk said that screw tops are fine for wines that people are going to drink in the next year or so, but he said not enough testing has been done to know how they will affect wines that need to age.

Cheese, of course, is a fantastic companion to wine, and after writing in my last column about my love affair with a hunk of stilton blue cheese, Jay Jeffries of the West Village emailed, asking if I ever shop at East Village Cheese, on Third Avenue between Ninth and Tenth Streets. I never do (although I had heard of the store), for the simple reason that I have easy access to great cheese in the West Village. But I was intrigued, and paid a visit.

I had been told that prices at East Village Cheese are remarkably low, and they are. For example, a seven-ounce hunk of stilton sells for $1.99. I normally pay much more. Though the aroma was perfectly pungent, I did not buy a piece so I cannot vouch for the quality. East Village does not allow customers to taste, which I find a bit odd. And, it is a cash only operation. I am sure that helps keep prices down.

Email comments, tips, and suggestions: food@thevillager.com.

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