On a chilly night in November, we thought a trek to the West Village would supply us with an intimate, special spot to enjoy exceptional bites. The Riddler delivered with a lush corner location, a crowd excited and abuzz, and excellent, informative service.

The full story: We attempted to get a bar seat around 7, but it was packed. We were told to come back in 45 min, so about an hour later we gave it a second try. (in the meantime we had a nice glass of wine and Italian bites at Sant Ambroeus, a few blocks down on w 4th St. to assuage our hunger—see photos at the end of this post.)

The Riddler NYC, oysters and Drew Farquhar at the bar.

Upon our return, Drew Farquhar, the wine expert behind the bar, remembered us and in no-time-flat we had two seats at the end of the bar near the window. (Thank you good-bar-Karma, you always get me in!) Here’s our first pour of champagne  along with some oysters: 3 Beau Soleil, NB, and 3 Hood Canal, WA. Both were excellent West Coast examples, the Beau Soleil extra creamy.

The Riddler NYC, with gold tin ceiling and squash dish.

A view of the cozy space from the back of the restaurant. Right, we also tried an order of the Roasted Honeynut Squash with Brussels sprouts & granny smith apple. Excellent, a wonderful winter medley.

The Riddler NYC with Drew Farquhar at the bar.

The bar dominates the room.

The Riddler NYC, Drew Farquhar pours some champagne.

Drew Farquhar matched our dishes with the right bubbly, and gave us the rundown with each glass. Right, another view of the space, which is tight, from the corner of the bar.

The Riddler NYC has historic touches, and a surprise in the bathroom.

A remnant of the past, a dumbwaiter near the bar. Right, inside the bathroom, a bit of humor.

The Riddler NYC, Ellen Swandiak enjoys some bubbly: three recommended pours.

Here I am in the corner bar seat, enjoying it all. Right, the three pours, as recommended by Drew Farquhar. He describes the flavor profiles on each:

Pierre Moncuit Blanc des Blancs From Le-Mesnil-sur-Oger, one of the more famous Grand Cru villages for Chardonnay production, Pierre Moncuit is a very lean, racy, dense, mineral-inflected wine that is an extraordinarily pure expression of chalk. The vineyards here are impressively chalky, which imparts a very distinctive character to the wine. (this was paired with the oysters)

Noel Bazin Rose This is what is called a “rose d’assemblage,” meaning a small amount of still red wine is blended with white. This is different than rosés from other parts of the world, where the tint comes from keeping the juice on the skins for a brief period. In this manner, Noel Bazin can make a little still red pinot noir (a rare but frequently sumptuous wine style), and then use that wine to deepen the color of the resultant wine, as well as deepen and enrich its flavors. This wine is broad, richly textured, and concentrated. This is the perfect champagne pairing with a burger! (we had this wine with the squash)

Pierre Baillette “Le Village” Perine Baillete, the winemaker, is the wife of Alexander Chartogne, winemaker at Chartogne-Taillet, a very famous and highly regarded champagne producer here in New York. This is from an area west of Reims called the “Petite Montaigne de Reims”, which is less well known that more famous Grand Cru villages to the southeast. Yet wines from this area frequently have a crackling tension and electricity that I find fantastic. 40% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay, and 20% Pinot Meunier, Champagne’s “other grape” that provides ripeness and acidity to a blend, and is found in abundance in this region. This wine has a nice brioche character, and great concentration of fruit and minerality. It ends with a very fine, very long finish. — Drew Farquhar

The Riddler, 51 Bank St (NW corner w 4th St)

HOBNOBMAG Sant Ambroeus NYC2

Sant Ambroeus

A few blocks down, Sant Ambroeus hosted us in a loving way, while we bided our time to get back into The Riddler. It was the perfect place to enjoy wonderful Italian bites at the bar, served with inimitable Italian warmth and style. Our spot at the bar gave us front row seats to witness the bartender in action, putting the finishing touch on a sparkling cocktail. Right, part of the snacks on the bar was a perfect cube of Mortadella. I loved this presentation, and the next time I had a guest in my home, I purchased a slab of this wonderful cold cut, and created my own little cubes to serve with toothpicks.

HOBNOBMAG Sant Ambroeus NYC2

The wine: an Italian Alto Adige Chardonnay. 2017 Kreuth Chardonnay Terlano tasting notes: offers a fine acidity, creamy structure and an elegant play of aromas. Thanks to its complexity and mineral note, this powerful Chardonnay from the Terlano DOC area is a very long-lived wine. We really enjoyed this wine.

HOBNOBMAG Sant Ambroeus NYC2

The bread offering, with bar snacks behind. Right, the absolutely delicious Asparagi Freddi: a traditional Sant Ambroeus dish featuring steamed asparagus, Kumato tomato, hard-boiled farm egg. A taste sensation, great combination of ingredients.

HOBNOBMAG Sant Ambroeus NYC2

The Melanzane alla Parmigiana: baked eggplant, in San Marzano tomato sauce, with buffalo mozzarella, Parmesan, and basil. A wonderful dish to share, as the portion is ample. Right, approval.

Sant Ambroeus, 259 West 4th St (SE corner Perry St)