Paul Shaked and Hudson Solomon opened up The Cleveland in the Nolita neighborhood of New York City in January. The restaurant features an all-organic and natural wine list to match their seasonal American/Mediterranean cuisine. We asked Paul and Hudson to tell us more about the restaurant and their support for organic wine.
What motivated you to exclusively offer organic and natural wines?
Paul Shaked: I was making adjustments to the wine list at my family’s restaurant, Sofia’s of Little Italy. I didn’t have a background in wine, so my only guide was my palate, and what salespeople tried to sell me. Being as my criterion was artisanal technique, it wasn’t long until I discovered the world of organic/natural wine. In my opinion, there are many reasons to serve natural wine, ranging from environmental benefits to supporting small vineyards. The key sticking point above all else, though, was that I find terroir driven, honest wine to be the best tasting.
What goes into putting together a thoughtful wine list?
PS: It’s difficult because you’ll never be able to satisfy everyone no matter how many wines you add to a list. Offering natural wines is a challenge because each cuvée we look at is a limited production wine. As a result, our by-the-glass selections must be on constant rotation. I have to work hard to keep slots filled with quality stuff, but as a built-in bonus, it also means that our guests are assured a tailored, seasonal selection.
How did you decide to open The Cleveland together? What are the advantages and disadvantages of owning a restaurant when you’re both 25?
Hudson Solomon: The Cleveland came about when Paul, who grew up in the restaurant industry, wanted to open up his own restaurant. What came about once we set our minds to it felt very serendipitous; the location at 25 Cleveland Place has a backyard garden and is only a few blocks away from his parent’s restaurant. We wanted to create a place around the garden that embodied that atmosphere. We thought that Mediterranean food, especially with Paul’s background being Israeli, really fit to that image.
PS: I think that our age provides us with stamina and the ability to work hard with the feeling that we’re really investing in ourselves. Some people don’t take us seriously, but we actually like that, because we view it as an opportunity to exceed expectations.
You have one chance to impress a customer with a wine/food pairing - what do you suggest?
HS: If it is a cold night, the NY Strip with beet puree and charred spring onions paired with the Donnas Nebbiolo/Freisa from Val d’Aosta in Northern Italy; it has a palate of rich alpine fruit that pairs excellently with the spices in the beets. We have an excellent trocken/dry Riesling, Clemens Busch grey slate cuvée, that you could pair with our whole roasted Branzino served with large herbed couscous, favas and harissa. Clemens Busch is one of the only biodynamic producers in Germany and it’s awesome to have them on the list - and even more awesome that we get to serve it every night.
Do you prefer reds or whites?
HS: I find more going on with red. The spectrum of flavors is broader, how tannic or full something is how light and fruity. I also find carbonic maceration’s effect on reds to be really interesting; particularly the strength of the initial effervescence and how it dissipates or not as the bottle is decanted or just left to open on its own. Every time you open a bottle of wine it is like reading a new book, it’s always going to be slightly different.
PS: White, almost always.
Can you really taste a difference with organic or biodynamic wine? Are they worth the effort? PS: I do believe that it is worth the effort. I LOVE natural wine and can totally tell the difference as sulfite levels are reduced.
If we enter the argument of blind taste tests - there obviously are wines that can fool any sommelier. The argument should lend credence to the benefit natural and biodynamic products have to artisanal craft and to the environment: when you put it that way I think organic wins every time. Go to a mass produced winery like Yellowtail and then go to the Monteraponi Vineyard and tell me you don’t see a difference.
Visit The Cleveland online.
Dani Rozman is a wine consultant and contributor to Organic Wine Journal. Photographs courtesy of Daniel Krieger.