Years ago, I bought a charming print of a rooster, an illustration from a 19th-century children’s book, that I framed and hung in my dining room. Soon after, a friend gave me another rooster print, and before you could say cock-a-doodle-don’t, I was getting rooster-motif gifts for my so-called collection until I unintentionally had a collection.
So when a sign bearing a rooster image appeared outside a newly opened restaurant in New Paltz late last summer, it naturally caught my eye. Il Gallo Giallo (which means the yellow rooster) is an Italian wine bar lodged in the space at the foot of Main Street where 36 Main used to be. The inside has been spruced up with subtle green paint, some snazzy light fixtures, and a little lounge beyond the dining area where you can sink into a comfy sofa for a glass of wine and a nibble. There are a few splashes of red, including on the walls in the ladies room, where sexy undies pinned on a line suggest there’s someone around with a sense of humor. The rooster theme is tastefully restrained — there are just two life-size models, one ceramic and one metal, perched on top of a serving piece — and owner Darrin Siegfried hopes to keep it that way. Satisfied customers, kindly take note.
The wine bar’s casual-but-chic interior
Siegfried has quite the pedigree as a sommelier, including a period as president of the Sommelier Society of America. He was once an executive chef, and he’s managed some fancy Manhattan establishments as well, so he knows all sides of the business. Here, he serves as genial host. My husband was charmed to be greeted with a cheerful “Good evening,” rather than the customary “Two?” which doesn’t have the same welcoming ring, no matter how brightly it’s said.
This is not to suggest that Il Gallo Giallo is formal; it isn’t. The mood is relaxed but civilized. On some nights, a jazz trio plays at a comfortable decibel level. The service is capable and informative, and as friendly as you’d like it to be.
Drinks include an array of cocktails and, as you’d expect, carefully chosen artisanal wines, about two dozen of which you can have by the glass. We started with a fresh, light Mionetto Prosecco, and were hoping that we might find a good Chianti to follow. We weren’t disappointed. Red wines, even inexpensive ones by the glass, come decanted, to bring out the flavor. Nice touch.
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Buon appetito: Grilled octopus salad is dressed with a citrus aïoli
The paper-wrapped skinny breadsticks were run-of-the-mill, but our small-plate appetizers came out so promptly, it didn’t matter. Ryan McClintock, the chef for 36 Main, is still in the kitchen. He and Siegfried have devised a menu of small dishes (like roasted marrow bones, polpette, or marinated mushrooms); traditional salumi; cheeses; crostini (the eggplant caponata goes over well, I’ve heard); panini; burgers made with local, grass-fed beef; and several salads and pastas. Porchetta — seasoned, slow-roasted pork the way they do it in Rome — is the house specialty.
We had a hard time choosing, but here’s what we tucked into for starters: Siegfried’s take on deviled eggs (the whole egg whipped into an almost mousse-like consistency, delicately spiced, and served in nicely crisp pancetta cups); and a salad of grilled octopus with medallions of potato and celery shavings in a smooth citrus aïoli. We also shared a lovely salad of roasted golden beets sliced into half-moons and served atop baby arugula leaves, with tiny cubes of earthy red beet in the middle, all brightened with an orange-citrus vinaigrette. Off to a flying start.
As one does these days, we’d checked online before we visited to see what other diners were saying and noticed a couple of complaints about small pasta portions. The menu offers two sizes: “normale,” roughly the serving common in Italy, where pasta is a course that comes before the meat; and “grande,” for those who like a more heaping plate. “Normale” turned out to be plenty for us, even as a main dish. We chose rigatoni with the house sausage, which was wonderfully lean and moist. The dish was lightly bathed in olive oil made fragrant with garlic and lemon zest. Braised greens added some color.
The housemade sweet potato ravioli includes sage butter, mostarda di Cremona (an Italian condiment made with candied fruit and mustard), and crushed amaretti cookies
The grilled portobello “burger,” served on a lightly charred, chewy ciabatta, comes stuffed with a blend of four cheeses — Asiago, Gruyère, Fontina, and Parmesan, if Siegfried’s memory serves — and a most satisfying faux cheeseburger it was, too, although once the cheeses are all melted together it’s hard to distinguish a particular one. The crispy herbed fries were perfect, and getting frizzled fresh rosemary and sage leaves was a tasty bonus. We finished dinner licking our lips over a satiny panna cotta, drizzled with a sweet red wine sauce and capped with spiced grapes.
Special deals, like half-priced bottles of wine on Wednesdays and inexpensive prix-fixe four-course dinners, are other attractions, as is the patio when it’s warm outside. In all, Il Gallo Giallo is whatever you want it to be: a quick stop for some crostini and a glass of wine at the bar on the way home from work; a casual place for a burger or panini before a movie; or a congenial setting for an enjoyable, leisurely dinner.
Il Gallo Giallo
Open daily except Monday, call for hours. Small dishes, salads, and nibbles from $5-$13; panini $10-$14; pastas $10-$19