Gabriela Davogustto of Vinateria
Celebrating their one-year anniversary in April, Vinateria is home to the most courageous wine list in Harlem. Curated by Gabriela Davogustto, who is also responsible for the cocktail menu, the list compliments the seasonal offerings from the kitchen, where her husband Gustavo Lopez is the chef. "People are used to wine lists in Harlem that lack innovation," said Gabriela. "They don't bring the bottle and let you taste it and discuss it with you. I feel that people are amazingly receptive to it [here] maybe because they're tired of places that don't put much adventure or love into their wine lists. The whole experience should be friendly and not to intimidate. Bring the bottle. Talk to them. This has to be a presentation. Respect the customer."
Previously working with Gustavo at Max SoHa, Gabriela also worked at Boqueria with Gil Avital (of Tertulia) while Gustavo worked at Terroir in Tribeca. "After working so many years in restaurants, I realized I love to drink wine and I wanted to know more about what I was drinking," she said. "I'm not from a country that drinks wine [Venezuela], but I'd seen the passion that some managers had. Gil was one of the first to show us. He's so passionate about it. He showed us grapes we weren't familiar with and so I started to take it seriously. Now it's great when he comes in and I can recommend a wine to him and surprise him," she added and laughed.
From the outset, Vinateria was intended as a neighborhood restaurant. Desiring a regular clientele that comes more than once or twice a week, Gabby emphasizes affordable price-points. "People will be more adventurous to try more things if it doesn't hurt them," she said. With a well-trained staff behind her wines, Gabby knows the value of passion. After having the opportunity to break bread with Telmo Rodriguez of Remelluri this year, she said, "The choices you make as a consumer, they have an impact. So I support the products I believe in and my customers support them. When you choose a product you believe in, you're making a difference.
"Joe [Billsbach, Vinateria's previous sales rep] brought Matthew Rorick here while we were still under construction," she added. "I tried the wines and thought, 'Oh my God'." Carrying the wines of Forlorn Hope since the restaurant first opened, Gabby gets a kick out of blind tasting some of her regular wine-heeled customers on wines like Forlorn Hope Barbera.
Working in a space that was constructed from recycled materials, where the elements of design hold a story, Gabby had to overcome her initial reservations on launching an unfamiliar wine/bar program. "People used to come in asking for Grey Goose, now they ask for the spirits we have. And," she added, "if I have a Malbec on the list, you're going to have to pay," because you know it's going to be great quality juice and not just Malbec for Malbec's sake. "With paint [on the walls] that is lime-based, and Gustavo buying local ingredients, it makes no sense to have Absolut behind the bar or to have wines that don't show that love. Hendricks Gin wanted to have an event here, but my gin comes from Vermont, from a beekeeper who seals the bottle with his own beeswax."
With pots of herbs planted in the window, Gabby initially created a cocktail list that was inspired by them. But then she attended a New York Times panel discussion on Pedro Almodovar and the switch flipped. "It was amazing," she said. "I was walking on air and came here thinking I'd do a cocktail named after each of his films." Matador. Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down. High Heels. Expressions of Almodovar in Harlem.
Pan-Seared Scallops with Corn Relish and Beet Purée
When it comes to selecting wines to pair with Gustavo's plates, their personal relationship offers an extended advantage. "He's very sweet," she said. "Every time I try a wine I like, he tastes it as well. And he comes to all the tastings. I don't believe that the kitchen is the back of the house. He has to be here too, to taste it. But it's not easily, obviously," she added and laughed. "Many people say they'd kill their husband/wife if they worked together. But he loves wine. He's very curious. He really likes funky super natural wines, which I'm not always into."
Where is she keen to visit on a night off? "Anfora. They have a Coravin section and I said to myself, I'm going to live here, with an ambulance," she said and laughed. "The wines were so beautiful. I had all of them. All ten."