With Earth Day coming up this Sunday, Apr. 22, many New Yorkers will be reminded of the need to incorporate more sustainable concepts into their everyday living. Fortunately, New York has many options that are both fun and environmentally-sound, making it easy to go green.
Downtown had the pleasure of speaking with four people who have great food and wine offerings for Earth Day and beyond:
How would you describe your restaurant to someone who hasn’t yet experienced it?
David Stockwell, Faun: The faun is a mischievous mythical Roman pleasure-seeker of the wild, and that speaks to our approach with the menu and really the entire guest experience. The garden is a constant focal point, overflowing with flowers and fruits, it defines the atmosphere while providing hyper-local, seasonal components to our Italian-inflected dishes. A second course of house-made pasta will anchor your dining experience at Faun, but we recommend starting on the playful side with a round of shareable starters, and finishing with a soul-satisfying slow-cooked meaty main dish.
Arnaud Tronche, Racines NY: Serious food, serious wine, casual atmosphere. French food with a Provencal touch, extensive wine list focusing on organic, biodynamic and natural wines.
Jay Nir, River Coyote: There’s no place like it, and the experience is everything, as the casual atmosphere of a coffee bar combined with the elegance of a wine bar is a charming atmosphere to experience. But one way to describe it would be a uniquely approachable, all-day wine and coffee bar, with a high standard of quality in every detail, offering 16 consciously curated red & white wines on tap, along with a truly-exceptional coffee program, and a menu of shareable plates from the kitchen. Deeper than all that, River Coyote is a place where everyone feels welcome and at home. We’ve been called a “gathering hall,” as different people come in at various times of the day for different reasons, yet are all present together in the same space. Come alone, with a friend, to meet friends, to make new friends, for the best coffee, for fresh wine, for hot food…There are so many reasons to come by anytime, without having to spend too much time planning and instead just being in the moment and doing what you feel.
How did you go about creating an earth friendly wine program?
Bill Fitch, Faun: Decades of working with the world’s wines has led me to the conclusion that sustainably-farmed, organic or biodynamic grape vines produce better grape juice for the yeast to turn into wine. It isn’t just for the crucial ethical issues that one prefers such wines. It should go without saying that all possible efforts should be made to preserve the biodiversity and natural heritage of the one single planet we know with life on it; it is also crucial to preserve the integrity of the very notion of wine, ontologically and aesthetically. When you know that the wine you are drinking has submitted itself to the vicissitudes of climactic contingency, courageously faced what nature offers without the cosmetic surgery, the nip and tuck of the vast array of chemical additives and hi-tech subtractions and polishes, then the context of our subjective enjoyment of the beauty of wine can remain unpolluted.
There is no such thing as “natural” wine. Viticulture is mostly a monoculture of artificial selection. Feeding your poodle organic dog food does not make it a “natural” dog, but I think if we can resist the excesses of artificiality, in the vineyard and in the cellar, not only will the planet be better off, but so will our sense of taste.
Arnaud Tronche, Racines NY: The wine list was not created to follow a trend or hype. It is what we love and what we believe in. And organic, biodynamic and natural wines are the wines we love. They show more purity than others. And on top of that, people behind those wines care about the earth, now and for the next generation. No pesticides, insecticides, no chemicals are used — if they have to be used, it’s a minimal dose.
Jay Nir, River Coyote: I was looking for the best way to offer quality wine by the glass for my guests, and wine on tap is exactly that, while also being environmentally sustainable. One reusable keg eliminates the use of 3,000 bottles, corks, closures, foil, labels, boxes and packaging over its lifetime. Kegs also lessen the transported wines’ weight, which has a large impact on the transportation industry’s carbon emissions. Wine bars serving wine by the glass from bottles have an incredible propensity for waste and inconsistency. Once a bottle of wine is opened, there is a short window to how long the wine can be served before needing to discard it, since oxygen quickly ruins wine. Wine on tap solves this by running nitrous into the keg to keep all oxygen out, so the last glass from a keg is as fresh as the first glass. Wine on tap also minimizes waste.
Do you have a favorite wine region? Is there anything new that really excites you?
Bill Fitch, Faun: It is difficult to pick one region. Middle Europe is certainly up there, as well as Austria, Moravia, and Slovakia. The warming planet has made it easier to ripen pinot noir in places like Switzerland and Germany. As bittersweet as it is, I have been very curious about the pinots and other reds from these traditionally white wine dominant regions.
Arnaud Tronche, Racines NY: I don’t have a favorite region, it really depends on my mood, the food I’m going to eat, the people I’m drinking with. But I definitely prefer old world wines and French especially. In terms of a new region, I love Corsica. Any new/old vignerons crafting amazing wines with many of them working with biodynamic practices and natural — no sulfur.
Jay Nir, River Coyote: As I explore more wines to continue identifying and offering the best wine available, my appreciation for certain regions is always changing. For some time I’ve been in love with Willamette Valley, Oregon for its Pinot Noir, but more recently I’ve been impressed with the variety of biodynamic options coming from Italy, and now I’m looking forward to the previously-inaccessible French options that are just now becoming available on tap.
What are some other ways that you try to be environmentally-conscious?
David Stockwell, Faun: Sustainability is a constant goal. Here are a few of the choices we’ve made in its service: Sourcing seasonal product as locally as possible. We buy from a long list of local farms and fisheries, as well as sourcing what we can from our very own on-site garden. We compost as many of our kitchen scraps as possible for the garden, keeping a few thousand pounds each year of refuse out of landfills. We installed a filtration system to fill our own still and sparkling water bottles in house – negating the need to continuously transport glass bottles to and from Faun. We built out the interior and patio areas with re-used elements from Build It Green, a local company that salvages and re-sells building materials.
Arnaud Tronche, Racines NY: We decided to make our own sparkling water so that we don’t have to order bottled water every day. Same thing with still water. We’re using a purifying system and don’t ever order bottles of water. We also limit the amount of paper — menus, wine list — we print every day. You would be shocked at how much paper you can just waste if you don’t pay attention to it. We are also recycling everyday; paper, glass, cans…
Jay Nir, River Coyote: River Coyote represents quality, passion and consciousness. We’ve gone above and beyond to properly-represent these values in our build-out, service and products. Not only no bottled water, but no bottled anything. It’s not just the wine that’s strictly on tap, the beer, cider, organic kombucha, cold brew, nitro cold brew, carbonated water and drinking water are all on tap as well. We also work closely with NobleTree Coffee, who has spent the past few years working the coffee farms they own in Brazil to understand how they can create sustainable practices to ensure the longevity of the environment. We reused a lot of materials in the buildout of the place. The marble window-counter is repurposed from the old bar that was here prior to our rebuilding the place, the communal tables are made of reclaimed wood, and more of the buildout was done with reused or repurposed elements such as the dining table-tops, the shelves, even the wood wine-barrel that holds our brass wine taps. Our lighting looks vintage but we actually have LED Lighting throughout the bar, and installed XLERATOReco hand-dryers to both minimize electrical usage and remove the use of hand drying towels. We choose organic wherever we can, with organic kombucha, selection of organic teas from Rishi, even our Housemade Vanilla Syrup and Raaka Chocolate for our Vegan Chocolate Ganache are all organic. One of the only bottles we have is for the all natural local milk we get from Battenkill Valley for our espresso with steamed milk. I actually looked extensively into getting our milk on tap to cut out milk bottles as well, but the technology is still improving and not yet at the standards we demand of quality, so we have milk bottles.
Earth Day aside, what is coming up for your establishment?
Arnaud Tronche, Racines NY: Lunch is around the corner. We have many winemakers events as well as wine dinners throughout the year. We are starting Tuesday night flights on Apr. 25 with new arrivals from Rhone. On May 9 we have an incredible dinner with a vertical tasting of André Beaufort Champagnes. And of course, with spring here, we have exciting new items coming up on the menu.
Jay Nir, River Coyote: We are in the process of expanding our kitchen hours to offer food from early ’till late every day, so that we can do an even better job at blurring the lines as a place you can come any time of day.
When not busy with work, how do you like to spend your free time?
David Stockwell, Faun: “Free time” is a foreign concept to me right now, but I dream of surfing once again on a regular basis. It doesn’t need to be Costa Rica, I’d take the Rockaways — anything! But I am lucky and eternally grateful for the small but regular bits of time I get — mostly eating breakfast — with my daughter Ramona and “wife” Carla.
Bill Fitch, Faun: I enjoy reading, writing, hiking, biking, swimming. Luxuriating in as naturally wild a place as I can find. Stargazing.
Arnaud Tronche, Racines NY: I don’t have a lot of free time but I try to spend as much time as possible with my family or playing ice hockey.
Jay Nir, River Coyote: Walking around the Lower East Side, feeling at one with the city, interacting with strangers, spending time with family, taking inspiration from the art — both street and indoors — listening to all the sounds, appreciating the complexity & beauty of it all, taking it in.
Other than your own spot, do you have a favorite restaurant in Manhattan?
David Stockwell, Faun: I’m a big fan of Ivan Ramen.
Bill Fitch, Faun: If someone else is buying, Le Coucou. If I am cast upon my own resources, I would say Amali in Midtown, where Dan Ross-Leutwyler is the chef. I would follow him anywhere.
Arnaud Tronche, Racines NY: Rouge Tomate, Rebelle, Marta, The Modern, to name a few.
Jay Nir, River Coyote: We are already blessed to be in Manhattan, even more so to be on Ludlow at Rivington surrounded by so many fantastic places. Immediately around us are a dozen places where I have special memories and have a personal connection to. So I’d have to say my favorite restaurants are my neighbors.
Finally, any last words for the kids?
David Stockwell, Faun: If you’re an architect — with a job — and are thinking about quitting to open a restaurant…well hell, go ahead and do it! You’ll be poor and stressed out, but somehow, something about life will be better.
Arnaud Tronche, Racines NY: You have to lead by example especially with kids. Show them what to do on Earth Day and every day after that. You should also take them to restaurants! My six-year old daughter comes once a week to Racines and discover new flavors all the time. Yes, we are kid-friendly at Racines!
Jay Nir, River Coyote: For the kids…Enjoy the present moment, while looking forward to the future. Live consciously. Do what you love. Be happy now.