Strolling on 7th Street in the East Village, it is quite easy to miss the narrow Ruffian Wine Bar & Chef's Table. Doing so would be a shame, however, considering the unique wine-drinking experience that owner Patrick Cournot, a Greenwich Village native, presents to the customers that pass through its Moroccan-style arches. For starters, Patrick’s “dynamic groups of wines” - mostly from southern France - go beyond the usual red or white. Here, the red wines offered range from translucid to inky black, and the white wines from pale with hints of green to deep amber. Customers can enjoy their wine while looking at contemporary art by Alberto Burri and Patrick’s wife, Elena Hall, who also designed the space.Everything from the wine bar’s organic design to the intriguing dishes prepared by chefs Josh Ochoa and Andy Alexandre “puts you in the right frame of mind to enjoy the wine,” according to Patrick. The polished 3,000-pound concrete bar and colored ceramic patterns on the wall create a contrast with the colors of the wine, which Patrick thinks often get lost in the dark wood and dim lighted décor of most wine bars. The kitchen is located behind the bar, so customers can be reminded that Ruffian Wine Bar puts as much care into its food as its wine.As for the dishes, it is difficult to describe the menu as a whole because, according to Patrick, a vast percentage of it changes every week. The dynamic quality of the food selection, though, allows Patrick to “incorporate flavors as they come out” seasonally.Yet whatever the menu of the day is, Patrick wants to ensure that the dishes have an intense flavor, which often translates into doing a contemporary twist on familiar ingredients. Two members of the Manhattan Sideways team were able to sample Josh’s culinary inventiveness with a dynamic dish made of lentils cooked in salt water, dressed with yogurt spiced with curry leaf, mustard and cumin seed, and topped with beet sprouts, crunchy noodles, Thai basil, and lemon juice. The result was a perfect appetizer with many levels of texture that, Patrick assured us, “brings up and shows the vibrant elements of the wine” that accompanies it. More than that, it shows Patrick has reached his goal for his wine bar: “to do ambitious things in a small space.”
Few things are more relaxing than sitting in a cozy cafe, sipping a mug of tea. With art from local artists, Diane and David Green, hanging on the walls, a plethora of delicious herbal smells hanging in the air, and the soothing conversation of the owner, Ilana, Physical Graffitea is the perfect spot to do just that.Ilana told some of us from Manhattan Sideways that she used to own a vintage clothing store, but always wanted to open a tea shop. In 2011, she swapped out her vintage clothing for jars of loose tea and Physical Graffitea was born. The store is named after the Led Zeppelin album Physical Graffiti and is located in the building featured on that famous cover. In 2012, Ilana and her daughter took a picture with Robert Plant when he came by to check out the store. Ilana explained with a big grin how her daughter called to the customers in the shop, “Come out, Led Zeppelin is here!”The menus are lovingly made with pressed oolong and lavender flowers. In addition to the teas, there are homemade cookies and kombucha on tap. Ilana has over 200 kinds of tea by the cup or pot, as well as a full online store. While teaching us about the origin and uses of her teas and herbs, she made us a cup of her super strong matcha. We could smell it from our table as she blended the ground green tea powder with soy milk and honey. She explained that there are different kinds of matcha and that she only uses the premium grade. A cup of this strong green tea, which comes both iced and hot, clears the mind and leaves one alert and calm. If matcha gives the brain energy, maca, a Peruvian superfood, gives the body energy. Ilana told us that the bartenders on St. Marks come to her to get matcha with some added maca right before their shifts so that they are ready for the night ahead of them.Ilana has gained her extensive knowledge of teas through constant reading. She explained that herbs quickly lose their medicinal power, and “you can tell that herbs are fresh when they’re more bitter.” It has to do with the oil that is present on the leaves themselves. She informed us that flowers and leaves dry out in six months and roots and bark in three.All the teas are carefully sourced for flavor and freshness. The chamomile is from Egypt, the lavender from Tibet, and the hibiscus from Mexico. We learned so many interesting facts from Ilana: The Sweet Oblivion tea has been known to wean people off sleeping pills, nettle leaf is good for pregnant women, and Pu-erh is a tea that is purposefully aged, passed down from father to son. There are teas for allergies, hangovers, fertility, pregnancy, menstruation, digestion, and the list goes on and on. Ilana was excited to tell us that doctors have started to refer their patients to her, since they have found the medical teas so effective. Whether for taste, energy, or medicinal purposes, Ilana has clearly demonstrated that she has the knowledge to choose the right tea for the right customer.
Kenkeleba Garden, named for an African healing plant, is simply magical. We followed the densely forested greenery around to the back, arriving at a clearing that transported us to another world far from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan. We were completely surprised when we landed in front of the sculpture garden, which is only visible from 3rd Street. From large African sculptures to collections of scraps or bricolage, a specialty of the Lower East Side art scene, we could not help but linger before doubling back and re-emerging onto the concrete sidewalks of 2nd Street. It was not until many months later, when we had the pleasure of meeting Joe Overstreet and his wife, Corinne Jennings, that we learned that this is affiliated with their gallery next door, Kenkeleba House. It is their life-long dream to someday use these grounds to build a museum that would house their massive collection of African-American art.