Morrell Wine Bar's Jake Klein Talks Wine Pairings and Getting Drunk as a Ten-Year-Old

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Photo courtesy Jake Klein
Jake Klein, lover of bone marrow and white wine

The Morrell Wine Bar (1 Rockefeller Plaza, 212-262-7700) is one of the city's great spots for downing a glass or two -- its extensive list boasts more than 2,000 different bottles. Pairing food with wine can be tricky, though, so we got in touch with chef Jake Klein, who offered some of his top pairing picks, his favorite wines to drink, and an amusing story of how he got drunk at the twee age of 10.

What do you think makes a great wine bar?

I think one thing that makes this place especially unique is the huge amount of wines by the glass. It creates a great experience for oenophiles, since we have over 100 wines by the glass. I started a few months ago, and I changed the format of the menu. It was old, stodgy type-food, with appetizers and entrées, and I changed it to predominantly small plates. We have about 20 different plates of raw stuff, cured, salads, and it makes it great for coming in and trying a glass and experimenting.

With a wine bar, do you match the food to the wine, or vice versa?

I went about it more about flavor profiles. Obviously there are key foods that I don't highlight [on the menu] that are historically not great with wine. My thought process when I first came was to talk with the bartender and sommelier about the general flavor profiles one finds in wine, like berries and spice, and from there, look at the food flavors.

What are the restaurant's best food-and-wine pairings?

I'm doing a black-pepper crab with shallots, garlic, and ginger on brioche crostini, and we're doing a Denver-style cut lamb rib that looks like a spare rib. I made a spice rub [for the lamb] with cocoa nibs, piment d'Espelette, and brown sugar, and we're serving that with an avocado puree. Syrah and Grenache in general would go well with the lamb, champagne with the crab. We had a great blanc de blancs from Roederer. And I'm doing a bone marrow with cinnamon and that was a knockout combination with Albariño. It was really interesting. It's about trying to find interesting food-and-wine pairings. With bone marrow, you immediately think of big reds with lots of tannin, but it went really, really well with the white.

What's the clientele like at Morell?

It's very local Monday through Friday and for happy hour. It's a lot of Christie's, NBC, Today show people, the hedge-fund dudes, ladies that lunch. The weekends are a mix. You've got European tourists but also the very upper-crust people that live in the neighborhood and want a snack. We're their local cafeteria. They come down from their $15 million apartment and stroll over for a snack and a $300 bottle of wine.

Do people ever get flustered by the incredibly long list of more than 2,000 wines available?

I think some people do. We get a good mix of different levels of wine people -- some beginners and some who know what they want. That's why I did small plates, to lighten it up and let people try different things. We all start in the beginning. I grew up around food and wine, and I still get anxious when I hear people talking about the flavors of shoe leather and wet cement. I don't know what shoe leather tastes like!

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