Despite being an obvious pairing, wine bars that actually serve good food aren't something we come across very often. There are certainly a couple of solid spots, but for every one that's good, there are ten wine bars that most definitely suck. The Ten Bells, a longtime staple on the Lower East Side/Chinatown border, is a wine bar that's been on our internal Hit List for a while. Although we'd been a couple times for drinks and oysters, we'd never rolled up with the intention of having dinner until last week. And you won't find us doing it this way again.
Don't get us wrong - we really like The Ten Bells. It's a beautifully laid out space, with a nice bar, plenty of room for hanging, an incredible wine list made up entirely of organic and sustainable wines, and an oyster happy hour every damn day. But despite also having a large menu of mostly Spanish small plates, eating a full-blown meal here is unnecessary. The cooked food just isn't very good. It is, however, still a very useful destination for a number of different reasons. Ten Bells is a great choice for a First/Early in the Game Date, where you can load up some oysters and a cheese plate and let the merengue music do the rest. It's also a good pre-game spot before a meal at The Fat Radish, which is only a few blocks away. And if you're seeing a band at Bowery Ballroom, this is an excellent option for a nightcap after the show.
If The Ten Bells wasn't so Perfect For all of those things other than food, it'd get a significantly lower score. That being said, if you're simply coming here for drinks and oysters, increase this rating at least an entire point. Oh, and bring the green. It's cash only.
$1 oysters between 5-7pm, $2.50 between 7pm-closing. Those are good rates, and they always have a fresh, rotating selection of east and west coast options. One of the most consistent oyster deals in town.Meat & Cheese Plate
A solid selection of charcuterie and cheese, you really only need this and a dozen oysters along with a couple glasses of wine here. Everything falls off a bit after this.Daily Empanada
We most recently had the chorizo empanada, and it was damn good. It's a little square thing that looks a lot more like a sandwich than an empanada, but it was delicious nonetheless.Mac 'N Cheese
This was just OK. They kind of mail it in on the mac 'n cheese...there's just nothing special about it. We're not complaining, we're just not impressed either.Salmon Tartare
Talk about slimy and salty, damn. This stuff should be on a bagel, not in a tartare. Skip it, or make sure you bring breath mints.Pulpo a la Fiera
When we asked our waiter what two dishes we should definitely order he said a) this one, their octopus and b) the salted cod dip, which we'll discuss below. Basically, this guy clearly has never tasted either. The octopus is not good. Actually, it's straight up disgusting. This thing was mushy, mealy, rubbery, and hardly edible. It's scary that this came highly recommended.Cod Dip
Another dish that was suggested by our waiter and which also sucked badly. This an unappealing dish made of a thick cod paste, served with mini baguettes. It's just way, way, way too salty. Skip city.Pulled Pork Sandwich
This will get the job done if you need something to soak up some booze, but it's not flavorful enough to be considered an elite pulled pork sandwich. It's average.