Champagne gets unfairly typecast. Sure, it works for New Year’s toasts and black tie events, but reserving it solely for those occasions is like using smartphones just for phone calls, or hiring The Rock just for fake wrestling matches. It also might lead to the assumption that The Riddler - a West Village Champagne bar - is only good for caviar and celebratory dates. You’ll find both of those things here, but this spot is also a great option when you just want to get tipsy and eat a burger.
The Riddler isn’t stuffy, but it is downright opulent. The gold-leaf ceiling and tables imported from France are the backdrop for plates of caviar and towers of seafood. Even the Champagne list is over the top. Considering the small space can’t fit big groups and every bottle costs more than $100, serving 150 grower Champagnes is a symbol of decadence rather than a practical offering. Still, The Riddler never takes itself too seriously.
From hip-hop on the speakers to a magnum of Krug in place of a fire extinguisher in the bathroom, The Riddler removes the pretension from Champagne. They even offer some off-menu serving formats usually reserved for Two-Buck Chuck, like a glass filled to the brim, or a Chambong - both cost $16. Chugging sparkling wine on a picturesque West Village street next to a couple feeding each other shrimp cocktail might sound forced, but it’s just a way to make Champagne accessible. So while it could be paired with caviar at some event Oprah’s attending, here it’s best paired with a cheeseburger next to an open bar seat that says “Reserved for Oprah.”
And the raclette-topped burger, like all of the food at The Riddler, is much better than you’d expect from a place with a Champagne list nearly ten times as long as its food menu. That goes for the raw bar and small plates, but it’s especially true for the entrees. There’s crunchy risotto doused in brown butter, parmesan, and truffle that’s so rich it needs to be shared, and perfectly seared halibut served with chanterelles and intensely earthy mushroom broth.
Our only complaint with The Riddler is that there’s almost no standing room - only a few bar seats, and tables that are often reserved a month in advance, so getting in requires planning ahead. In other words, it forces you to treat this place like a special night out. But once you’re here, it feels worth it. And whether you’re looking to celebrate with a formal toast or wine glass filled to the brim, The Riddler works for both. Just like Champagne.
Champagne was served in court during the ascension of Louis XIV, and while we aren’t sure about the Sun King’s dietary preferences, we imagine he enjoyed something like this raw bar platter. It’s festive and shareable, but by far the best part of it is the meaty, oily hamachi topped with crunchy radishes. If you’re not concerned about production value, just get a few orders of that instead.
There are lots of rules dictating how Champagne needs to be made, but none about how it needs to be enjoyed. The best way to experience it at the Riddler is to split a bottle and this raclette and sauce-covered burger with a date. Work your way through the huge pile of thin, crunchy rosemary fries while Jay-Z plays in the background.
The wine list here focuses on grower Champagnes, which are made by small producers who grow their own grapes. They can vary a lot from year-to-year, and like this honeynut squash, they give you a snapshot of a specific time and place. A bite of the caramelized squash, brussels sprouts, and apple cider vinaigrette is as intense a faceful of autumn as Charlie Brown got after whiffing that football.
Marilyn Monroe once took a bath in 350 bottles of Champagne. We can’t recommend taking a bath that costs as much as a Tesla, but if you want to get a sense for that level of decadence, order this risotto. It’s bathing in brown butter and parmesan, and topped with fresh truffle. It’s great, but it’s so rich that you should order it as a share-plate for the table.
Champagne can make a normal night feel like a special occasion, and this halibut has the same effect. The salty, crispy fish is served over foamy, buttery mushroom broth. You’ll feel like you could be at Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare or The Fulton, until the table next to you chugs back-to-back Chambongs.
Champagne’s greatest strength is how well it pairs with everything from caviar to chocolate. You can spend $78 on a scoop of caviar here, but we recommend just getting this dessert and using your imagination. The caviar container is filled with crunchy, salty chocolate pearls over layers of caramel and creme fraiche panna cotta. We’d come to The Riddler just for this and a glass of dessert wine.