Hi TJ. Great to reconnect with you! It was such a bummer when Brooklyn Oenology closed the tasting room. But it sounds like you’ve got a lot going on so I am going to jump right in. The Village Voice recently referred to you as a “beverage maven” - can you tell us a little bit about your background?
Ha! Yeah, I liked that one. "Beverage maven” sounds much better than “functional alcoholic” so I'm good with that!
My background is mostly in restaurants, I actually grew up in the bagel business. My father owned a Bagel Store in Westchester NY, so as early as I can remember I’ve been around food. I actually got my first wine-buying gig while in college in Boston at an amazing Northern Italian Restaurant call La Morra. I'm not sure why they hired me to be honest with you, probably because my name sounds super Italian, but since then I’ve never looked back. I’ve worked at a number of restaurants throughout NYC for the last 10 years or so, and back in 2010 I linked up with Alie Shaper at Brooklyn Oenology. She really inspired me when it came to local wines, and taking pride in what we produce within our own state. We worked together for about 7 years before the tasting room closed. Which you’re right was a total bummer, but since we closed I’ve been able to focus on some other amazing projects that also highlight local wines.
And can you give us a quick update on BOE? What’s been going on?
Alie is still making amazing wines and selling them both through her online store, and her brand new tasting room Peconic Cellar Door on the North Fork. She launched a private label as well last year called “As If” Wines. I helped her a bit with her wine club for a few months after the tasting room closed, but recently have been busy working on these 2 exciting new projects! We’ve since carried her wines both at Rooftop Reds and at my newest venture Mayanoki.
I was fortunate to attend a Mayanoki dinner at BOE and I heard there’s now a brick and mortar location!?
Yes that true! After 5 years of pop-ups we’ve finally got our own space. Its been a crazy few months getting the space renovated and open to the public, but its all highly rewarding. We are NYC’s first all sustainable sushi omakase, so you can imagine there are a lot of challenges that go along with that. We don’t bring in any seafood from Japan, so sourcing seafood is probably the biggest challenge. We require the absolute best, most immaculately handled, and traceable local seafood, so we are constantly working with our purveyors to find new, exciting, sustainable species that are not traditionally served with this kind of Japanese preparation. We have 2 seatings per night at 6:30pm and 8:30pm, and we serve a 15 course omakase that focuses on domestic seafood, and changes daily! Its been a lot of fun to serve species that no other restaurants are serving, we love surprising our customers and opening their eyes to some of these under utilized species. Our space is super small, it’s an intimate 8 seat sushi bar, so it’s really fun for private seatings, winemaker dinners, etc. Our wine, beer, and cider list is from local producers as well (as you can probably imagine), but we do bring in Sake from Japan.