Mulino a Vino is a wine bar and Italian restaurant that practically hides from the street. Tucked in the basement, the restaurant opened its doors in September 2014. The main dining room uses dim lighting from a hanging chandelier and exposed brick walls to create a welcoming atmosphere. A room in the back of the restaurant allows for a more intimate dining experience, and there is a small library room that can be booked for private dinners. The antique wooden chairs and marble tables exemplify the rustic Italian side of Mulino a Vino. The kitchen’s final prep area is conveniently located in front of the bar area seating. We quickly gathered that the stools around the bar must be the most coveted, as they allow people to observe the executive chef creating his magic firsthand.
Owner Paolo Meregalli comes from a family with five generations of experience in the wine business. After growing up on the vineyards, Paolo first earned his PhD in marketing, but the culinary world always called to him. Eventually, he opened his first establishment, Mulino a Vino – a casual wine bar in Monza, Italy - Paolo's hometown. It is located inside a windmill. Supervisor, Laura O'Neall, described it as a "Very tiny, adorable place, where guests can grab a bottle of wine and sit in the town plaza by the canal if there are no seats left inside." Following his initial success in Italy, and after traveling and working around Europe, Paolo decided to come to New York, where he opened this new gem on 14th Street. When Manhattan Sideways got a chance to visit, we were greeted by the “core team” to whom Paolo attributes the success of his New York adventure.
Laura welcomed us with a warm smile and eagerly launched into the history of the restaurant. We were soon joined by Executive Chef Massimiliano Eandi from Turin, Italy, who began his cooking career at the age of fourteen. At only seventeen years old, Massimiliano left home for London, where he trained with some of the top Michelin-starred chefs. When we met him (at age twenty-four), he was overseeing the entire kitchen. The Sommelier, Sara, hails from Turino, Italy and joined the Italian Sommelier Association at twenty-one years old. She is in the restaurant each evening to offer expert advice to her guests.
While Chef Massimilano and Paolo stressed the importance of teamwork to their overall success, they also explained the science behind many of their dishes. Paolo elaborated on their goal of creating traditional Italian flavors with a "modern, unique" twist. “We can never be wrong because it’s exact. It’s a scientific approach with a lot of love.” Paolo and Massimiliano explained that they go so far as to measure the pH of the water that they cook with to ensure that they have the correct salt measurements for their pasta, which they make in-house. We were thrilled to be able to witness the chef in action as he prepared and then beautifully presented us with some of his favorite dishes – Bonfire Lamb, Terrarium dish, Pasta + Pomodoro, and the Ravioli Cacio e Pepe.
While placing each plate before us, the chef announced, “Our dishes are the whole package.” Most of the pastas can be prepared gluten free and most dishes can also be vegan. “I feel like everyone should be able to have the same experience,” the chef said. While discussing the extensive wine menu, Paolo explained that his wine bar was different from most restaurants, because, “People experiment with different wines and share food, which is the opposite of what normally happens.” By constantly changing the dishes, the staff is encouraging customers to share their meals but indulge in their own wine. "We like this idea of experimentation. It plays along with our scientific approach to the food."
In keeping with the original nautical theme from the 1960′s, each room in the hotel has a porthole window and is decorated with teak wood. In 2014, the hotel’s restaurant La Bottega closed to make room for La Sirena by Mario Batali. The Cabanas, open in the spring and summer, is on the rooftop and offers a welcome reprieve from the city streets when the weather permits.
Beneath the Spanish Benevolent Society lies La Nacional, one of Manhattan’s most authentic Spanish restaurants and the most easily accessible part of the society. Just by walking down the steps into the dimly lit basement lounge, we felt the bustle of 14th street quickly recede and we were transported across the ocean. La Nacional has the same relaxed, no frills atmosphere as most tapas bars in Spain. We gazed at the old photographs from the society’s earlier years on the walls and then had the option of sipping a drink at the bar, sampling some classic simple Spanish tapas such as tortilla de patatas, croquetas or chorizo, or dining on a full meal of paella. Perhaps the most authentic option, though, was to simply have a seat by the television to watch the fútbol game - it is always on. For visitors from Spain who want a taste of home, those of us pining for the Spanish travels of our past, or New Yorkers simply curious about a new culture, La Nacional is the place to go.