"The London Wine Bar in San Francisco calls itself the oldest wine bar," DiGiovanni says. "But it opened in 1973. The Monastery came first."
Considerably less stylish than Joe D's and Boozefish, the Monastery served sandwiches, cheese boards and chili in its mid-'70s heyday. DiGiovanni didn't plan to serve anything more elaborate than that when he took over the space.
"But I realized that good food is essential to enjoying good wine," DiGiovanni says.
Head chef Sarah Walker oversees Joe D's tiny kitchen, which is tucked between the dark bar area and the intimate (some say claustrophobic) nonsmoking dining room. Walker blends an Italian sensibility (osso buco, pasta potenza, tiny pizzas baked on a crispy pasta crust) with traditional café cuisine like roasted chicken and grilled lamb chops brushed with a Mission fig glaze. But wine is still the café's primary allure; it offers fifty vintages by the glass and more than 200 selections -- including a $1,200 bottle of 1982 Mouton-Rothschild. No one has ordered that yet, "but we did sell an $850 bottle of 1970 Mouton several years ago," DiGiovanni says. "The dinner tab was $3,600. It was a good night!"
The good nights -- and good dinners -- of controversial chef Anthony Bourdain, author of the ribald, best-selling Kitchen Confidential, should make for a lusty discussion next week when the 45-year-old executive chef at New York's Les Halles brasserie comes to Kansas City. Promoting his newest book, A Cook's Tour: In Search of the Perfect Meal, Bourdain spills the beans on Wednesday, February 6, at Unity Temple on the Plaza. (Tickets are available at Rainy Day Books, 2706 West 53rd Street.)
The unexpected success of Bourdain's 2000 book gave him the dough to travel around the world, from the Sahara to Vietnam. "It fulfilled every childlike and childish fantasy I've ever had," Bourdain says. "I had always said, in idle barroom chatter, that I wanted to see the world. And I did."
His biggest surprise? "How good the food is in truly poor countries, with the fewest resources and no money," he says. "It's ironic, but where food is most important is in the places where it's hard-won. In America, we take food for granted because we don't have to work for it. We're totally disconnected from where our food comes from. I've been a chef for years, but I'd never seen an animal killed until I traveled. In America, chefs order our meat over the phone. We're like Michael Corleone: 'Kill it and bring it to me.'"