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Brian Zipin: Citronelle’s Rocking Wine Guy

From CBGBs to haute cuisine.

First Person: Brian Zipin

Next month, Brian Zipin, the assistant sommelier at Citronelle, will become general manager of Michel Richard’s new bistro, Central. Transition and reinvention is nothing new to the multi-talented Zipin, who has appeared on Broadway, played guitar at the famed Manhattan haunt CBGBs, and cut several records, including a tune for the movie The Crush, starring Alicia Silverstone.

These days, the leopard print hair of his youth is gone, replaced by a suit and a tastevin. But he still keeps his prized 64 Fender Jaguar by his bedside.

On his early career on Broadway
I did a number of original plays. I did a bunch of Broadway, off-Broadway. I was the understudy for “Biloxi Blues.” I played Arnold, the Jewish guy. The lead was whatsisname, the guy who was on “Northern Exposure” – Morrow, Rob Morrow. I did soap operas. I was even in a Frankie Valley video – “Street Fighter.” I did stunts. It was out of sheer stupidity – not training.

On why he eventually gave up on a career he’d been working toward since he was 16
It was fun. There were frustrating times, though. You get called back three or four times for a film, then Jon Cryer gets it.

On the fear that a great many diners have of the sommelier
If you know what you want, you have a better chance of getting it. If you sit down and say: I love Burgundy, and I love the more delicate styles, then you’ve given me a great window. Just that little bit, is a big, big help. Or to simply say: I’m in your hands. Surprise me. I wish more people would say that.

On the boundless creativity of Chef Michel Richard
Not to blow smoke up his ass, but coming from New York, I saw a lot of things – and those chefs up there, they got nothing on Michel.

On why a Richard restaurant will be carrying Budweiser
When you’re talking about basically serving comfort food, which is what a bistro does, then I don’t think you want to alienate people. I drink Bud. I like Bud. I’m not saying it’s the greatest beer in the world, but why not give people the option of ordering it, if they want?

On how committed management is to preserving the proper pronunciation of the new restaurant — i.e.,not CEN-tral but Cen-TRAHL
If people ask, we will tell them the pronunciation is Cen-TRAHL. There are ways of correcting people without correcting them. Every day I hear someone ask for “Michael Richards.” Or: “Is Michael in? Tell him a friend of his is here.”

On rumors that Michel Richard won’t renew his contract when it runs out in February, out of frustrations with LSR, the management group that owns Citronelle
It’s been asked of a lot of us. I don’t believe the contract’s been signed yet. We’ve been told that we’re not going anywhere, and that they’re beginning a renovation. That’s what we’ve been told.

On what he’s going to be drinking with Thanksgiving dinner
I’m a big acidity guy, and you need acidity with a meal like this. So I’m going with a Sangiovese – Morellino di Scansano. It’s got a little fruit to it, it’s not overly oaked, and you can probably find it for about 15, 16 dollars. A lot of people’s pick is a Pinot Noir, and that would just get totally lost on Thanksgiving.