This is why restaurant week is a good idea, it brings people like me into place they might not have otherwise tried, and if the place is good enough, it goes into that diner’s regular rotation
The Wine Bar is such a place.
The first thing I noticed when I walked in was a lingering aroma of cigar smoke. They do have a separated cigar bar, and I don’t know if the scent was a faulty ventilation system, or the residue of a previous patron’s clothes. In any case, it was the only misstep (on The Wine Bar’s part) of the evening. The interior is sleek, modern, but not strange or threatening. The photos on their website were taken in natural light, which would be very plausible during the summer months, but since the sun sets now before they open, it looked quite different under the (deliberately) warm lighting. They had their fireplace going, and they chose the lighting fixtures to give of a similar color. A very welcoming, relaxing space to occupy. I’d compare it to Max London’s; both make use of warm colors, sleek lines and wood, but Max London’s is more aggressive in a way, more overtly and self-consciously cool.
The food was very much like the interior: familiar, but updated.
First course: cured smoked salmon, devilled egg, crostini, capers, chopped red onion.
The house-cured salmon was very good. Someone knows how to smoke a fish. The devilled egg was a nice touch, sprinkled with dill and a bit of horseradish in the filling. Here was where I made a mistake. Since I got there early, they still had happy hour prices on wines, and I wasn’t paying attention to his description of the white for the evening. It was a riesling, and probably the worst thing I could have paired with the dish. Still, that was my fault, I can’t blame the waiter for not catching my mistake, after all the kid was a waiter, not a sommelier. Plus, he was a kid. And it does take quite a bit of balls to tell a paying (and tipping) customer that they’re making a mistake.
Second course: bison flank steak, potato and bacon hash, braised red cabbage.
While my initial reaction upon seeing the description (before arriving at The Wine Bar) was “Me Man! Me eat buffalo and bacon!” the actual dish was surprisingly refined. Partially this was achieved through portion size, and partially through presentation, with the steak pre-sliced and swirled out to display the rare center… if it had had one. It is very difficult to cook a flank steak properly and have it maintain the correct degree of doneness on the plate and have the dish arrive at the table warm all at the same time, and this was (predictably) a bit overcooked. Still yummy though. The same could be said of the other components of the dish. The potato hash was a bit underseasoned for its role, and the red cabbage a bit strong (again, compared to the items it was sharing a plate with – by itself it was very nice). If I had to guess, I’d say that this dish was planned by the chef but cooked by someone under him/her; I could tell what was meant to be on the plate, but what was actually there wasn’t quite right. Still a good dish in the eating, but probably being exposed to the idea of it was more rewarding.
Dessert course: chocolate mousse.
This was brilliant. I am a bit of a chocolate fan, and generally approve of chocolate desserts, but that doesn’t mean that just anything with cocoa in it gets praise from me. See the dessert course from Max London’s, for example. The flavor of the dish was excellent, but what made it genius was the texture. Chocolate mousse is usually pseudo-smooth. It lacks the true silken texture of a perfect crème brulee, or the grainless density of a top-notch ice cream or flan. Mousse gets its texture from all the air bubbles whipped into either the egg whites or whipped cream, giving it a yielding, but subtly heterogenous mouthfeel. Kind of boring really. What the chef did here was to add shaved chocolate to the mix at the end, resulting in a chunky, delicious, different take on the classic standby dessert. This could be example #1 on how to put your own variation on a traditional recipe.
Unfortunately, work interfered with my getting to try additional restaurants this year but I’m absolutely going to take advantage next year. As long as I keep finding places like The Wine Bar, there’s no reason to stop exploring this town.