The menu is always an afterthought whenever I eat at Landmarc. That's not for lack of enticement: It's because the wine list at this neighborly bistro on West Broadway commands a wine buff's priority. Its selection of 365 wines is far from encyclopedic, but no other wine list in the city offers a spectrum of well-chosen wines at prices so refreshingly low. While other restaurants typically mark up wine to double or triple retail, Landmarc keeps prices hovering just above or even below what your favorite shop would ring up. For diners who don't want wine to be the tail wagging the food dog when the bill comes, this easygoing spot, its menu mingling French and Italian classics, has been a low-profile haven since it opened three years ago.
Until now, owners Marc Murphy and Pamela Schein Murphy have been content to nurture the TriBeCa locals. But at 7 a.m. on April 23, they'll go mainstream with the opening of Landmarc at Time Warner Center. Sprawling across the north side of the center's third floor, this bold new location will seat 300 — triple the downtown capacity.
Despite its proximity to some of America's priciest restaurants — Per Se and Masa are up one floor — Landmarc's food and wine prices will be the same uptown as downtown, according to Mr. Murphy. It will be the first modestly priced restaurant at Time Warner Center, if only by default. Landmarc is taking over the space where Chicago superchef Charlie Trotter was to have completed the center's "collection" of five ultraprestigious restaurants. In 2005, spiraling costs got the best of Mr. Trotter's plan for a seafood restaurant designed by Michael Graves.
From the beginning, Landmarc sold loads of wine. The restaurant's wine and beverage director, David Lombardo, said he remembers ordering three cases of Chateau Lynch Bages 1998, a Bordeaux standby, for his first wine list. A few weeks later, he called the distributor to reorder. "You can't have sold out already," the salesman said.
Indeed, the Lynch-Bages had been snapped up by canny customers at a bargain price of $65. Mr. Lombardo's problem at the first Landmarc has not been selling wine, but storing it. He is limited to a pair of small compartments opposite the second-floor restrooms and a rooftop vault. Fortunately, the new restaurant boasts a spacious, glass-walled wine room in full view of the dining room that holds 10,000 bottles. Not by chance, a wine tower devoted exclusively to 350 half-bottles rises prominently behind the bar at the restaurant's center. Fifty-six different half-bottles will be available. "We want to scream half-bottles," Mr. Murphy said last week in an interview at the new Landmarc's hectic construction site.
That scream is in lieu of selling wine by the glass, which has always been off-limits at Landmarc. Ask for a glass of wine even in supposedly wine-proud restaurants, and it may be poured from yesterday's unfresh bottle, if not from the day before. Or, as has happened to me recently, you may order chardonnay but be served a cheaper sauvignon blanc. Even if your glass of wine is poured from a newly opened bottle whose label you can verify, chances are that it's overpriced. "A good rule of thumb is that your glass of wine costs almost as much as the bottle did," Mr. Lombardo said. "I've even had a salesman say to me, ‘Here's a great bottle of wine for $8, which you can pour by the glass for $10.'" Although you can't buy a half-bottle for as little as $10 at Landmarc, a lively Rioja called El Coto (perfect with burgers) is $12 for a half-bottle. Pour four glasses, and that's a mere $3 a glass.
Along with his plenitude of half-bottles, Mr. Lombardo has further downsized by offering splits of champagne, a two-glass mini-bottle most often served at 35,000 feet. "As an aperitif, a single glass of champagne jumpstarts your palate, which is why we offer this size, Mr. Lombardo said. A split of Laurent-Perrier Brut NV is just $12 — a buck more than at retail.
Landmarc's low margins aren't to be confused with favoritism toward budget wines. Elites abound on this list, including a great wine burgundy, Corton-Charlemagne Labourie-Roi 2003 at $69. It's $60 at Soho Wine & Spirits. The gorgeously fruited Clarendon Hills Old Vines Grenache, Blewitt Springs, 2002, is $64, beating Zachys's shelf price by $11. Among half-bottles, Quintessa, a refined Napa Valley red, is $63. That size is unavailable at retail in New York, perhaps because it all ends up at Landmarc. "We sell more half-bottles of Quintessa than any other restaurant in America," Mr. Lombardo said — and that's before the new restaurant opens.
The best deal on Landmarc's list is also the priciest: A three-bottle vertical selection of mature Ridge Monte Bello (1990 through 1992) is priced at $675. This same trio of one of the greatest California "cabs" cost $1,495 at the upstate wine shop Grapes. Some lower-priced wines, however, are not a bargain. "Dr. L" 2004, a German Riesling listed at $28, is widely available at retail for $13.
Landmarc's tender pricing strategy is ultimately hard-nosed. "Another restaurant can mark up a bottle by $60 while we take $20, but we are going to sell three times as much wine," Mr. Murphy said. "The only one who doesn't benefit is the waiter, who has to work harder at pulling so many corks."
As the child of an American diplomat posted in Europe, Mr. Murphy grew up with a sense of the pleasures of the Continental table, not least wine. Working as a young chef in France, he was impressed by bistros where the wine lists were modest in size and mark-ups were low. "My idea when I opened Landmarc was that some of the best times of my life have been around the table, and I wanted the same for my customers. That's hard to do if you're drinking overpriced wine," he said.
It's curious that prices that delight customers don't always sit well with suppliers. When Landmarc featured Cristal, the ultraluxury champagne, on its list at a very low price, the supplier was mortified. "He told us, ‘You can't cheapen luxury goods like this,'" Mr. Murphy said. His own bottom line on Landmarc's wine pricing policy: "We want to making a living, not a killing."