“I had absolutely no restaurant experience whatsoever when I began,” says Deborah Gavito of Counter, a self-described “Organic Wine & Martini Bar Vegetarian Bistro,” in New York City’s East Village. “I wanted a sleek and sexy, but affordable, vegetarian restaurant. When I discovered that the world of biodynamic, sustainable, and organic wine was so vast, it was only natural to have a wine bar as well.”
The combination has been an undeniable success. Counter has been praised by The New York Times, won an “Award of Excellence” from Wine Spectator magazine, and named one of the city’s best restaurants by New York magazine; proof that a pursuit of excellence can sometimes replace experience, even in the cutthroat restaurant business.
Gavito was selling pastries and bread at the Union Square Greenmarket when, excited by her success, she decided she wanted her own restaurant. It took five years of location searching before she was able to open up Counter in 2003. “You fall, and you fall, and you fall on your face again. But you just keep getting up and going on. It’s just something I wanted to do, so I didn’t mind the difficulties.”
Gavito remains modest, but the extensive wine list at Counter reveals that her instincts and palate have come a long way in three years. Alongside selections from the world’s major wine regions are a few wild cards thrown in the mix, such as the Viñedos de los Vientos, an obscure dessert wine made from the tannat grape from Uruguay. The wide variety is the result of Gavito’s own taste buds. She went in blind, bought what she liked, and hoped for the best.
Counter even instituted its own “Rebel of the Month” program to highlight winemakers who, like Gavito, “think outside the bottle.” Not surprisingly, her first selection was Tony Coturri of Sonoma’s Coturri Winery, a winemaker known for his uncompromising and individual style.