A New Yorker til death, one of my favorite things to do is go to the theater. Picking a restaurant in the theater district, however, has always been a huge thorn in my side. While there are some standouts (Toloache, Pigalle), most theater district dining is a tourist trap and not worth the exorbitant prices. This night, with two friends in tow, we heard some rumblings through the grapevine about Gallo Nero, a relatively new wine bar in the theater district. In my opinion, you can never go wrong with a wine bar, so we ventured forth to 44th street between 9th and 10th avenues.

Run by Chef Camillo Bassani, formerly of the Hasseler Hotel in Rome and Azalea in NYC, Gallo Nero is prety much what one would expect of an Italian wine bar in terms of decor. Cozy space, exposed brick, deep mahogany wood bar, and countless bottles of Italian wines stacked along the walls. We were seated promptly (even though it was 6 PM, not exactly dinner rush hour), and I happened to be sitting right under a shelf of wine. I just kept praying that the shelf was screwed in properly or else I wouldnt be here right now. The waitress brings us the wine lists and the menus, which comprise mainly of paninis, cured meats and cheeses, and asorted small plates.

We were having trouble deciding on a good wine, so the waitress (with a thick Italian accent) suggest a 2001 Barolo. By the glass? Never. When our bottle arrived, she poured a little in each of our glasses, and the color was deep red, like a black cherry. We toasted to our new find and took a sip. It was a great choice, bold and spicy with a hint of smokiness left on the palate. Now I’m no wine connoisseur, but I had a feeling that one more bottle of this and we would all be just drunk enough to sit through Xanadu.

One bottle later, we decided it was time to order some food. The menu is mainly small plates, and my friends and I have big appetites, so we ordered a few. Hearts of Romaine salad with avocado, red bell pepper and walnuts ($7), shrimp spiedino ($14), artichoke spiedino with onions, peppers and zucchini ($9), meatballs in a white wine and basil pesto ($8), and an assortment of three cheeses ($13) we chose which were Grana Padano, Asiago and Taleggio.

Well when they say small plates, they mean small plates. The salad couldnt have been more than a cup of greens with seldom pieces of avocado and maybe five walnuts; it was nothing too impressive. The meatballs on the other hand were actually very tasty, despite the fact that there were only five of them the size of large marbles. The basil pesto was a vibrant green, with just the right amount of garlic and the nutty bite from the parmigiano cheese. The shrimp and artichoke spiedino were also a big hit. Three or four well-sized shrimp were basted with herbs, grilled to perfection and served atop mixed greens. And  while there might not be much to an artichoke-vegetable spiedino, it had a tangy lemon flavor and the vegetables were still crisp. We were on our second bottle of Barolo when we realized that if it werent for the three cheeses (which were amazing), we would have had to order more meatballs.

After the initial wine buzz wore off, we came to the conclusion that Gallo Nero was definitely a nice place to have a pre-theater meal. The three of us left satisfied but not too stuffed (even though we had about five plates, cheese and two bottles of wine), and we really enjoyed the service and the atmosphere. It was just like a family restaurant in Italy; inviting and willing to feed you, as long as the conversation and wine are consistently flowing.

Gallo Nero

402 West 44th street between 9th and 10th avenues, 212-265-6660