Joined a friend for dinner yesterday at the city's newest wine bar, open since Wednesday. In its previous incarnation, the small space (around 35 tightly packed seats) was Checkpoint Charlie's last stand. A gorgeous old bar dominates the room; the open kitchen (with an electric range!) is behind it, where the bartender would normally be, which means the room is filled with wave after wave of aromas (obviously not ideal for wine appreciation, but less bothersome than at places like À l'os). A banquette running the length of the room faces the bar. The space between the bar and the front window is filled with high tables and counters with bar stools. The dominant colours are wood and red and the lighting has a warm, incandescent glow; it all makes for a cozy place to spend a winter's evening.
The menu is short and composed mainly of small plates. Lots of meat, a little seafood (including oysters on the half shell) and a grand total of three vegetable sides (mushrooms à la grecque, leeks vinaigrette and, and... I forget, but something marinated). A vegetarian would have to content him or herself with that trio, some deviled quail eggs and a short but enlightened assortment of raw milk cheeses. Based on our choice of dishes and the smells emanating from behind the bar, I'd say savoury is the operative word when it comes to the cooking: escargots à la bordelaise (cooked with bone marrow and shallots, mellowness on a plate); a gratin of sliced boudin, tripe and Yukon Golds (one bite had my initially hesitant friend keeping an eye peeled to make sure he got his fair share); venison carpaccio (slightly warmed, drizzled with olive oil and served under a thatch of mini-arugula and Parmesan shavings); and an off-menu thick slice of bacon braised in semi-sweet wine and topped with squash purée and insanely delicious "croutons" (paper-thin slices of baguette fried crisp and seasoned I know not how), the standout in a pretty impressive lineup. A small plate of 18-month raw-milk Comté came with slices of superb and superbly toasted walnut bread, roasted almonds and a minimally sweetened apricot compote. There's also a short dessert menu, which we didn't check out.
Written on blackboards over the banquette (meaning you have to leave your table to take it all in), the wine list comprises around 35 bottles and is just studded with the kind of hard-to-find, off-the-beaten-track wines I find impossible to resist, like a vin jaune from Overnoy or a 2001 Priorat "Clos Mogador" from René Barbier (the resto had two of the six bottles sold in Quebec). All the wines are available by the 5-oz glass, carafed in 500-ml increments or by the bottle. There's also a short list of wine duos, two 2.5-oz servings of wines that share a connection (a Petit Chablis with a Chablis Grand Cru, for example).
Service was friendly and attentive, though a few kinks remain to be worked out. We had to ask three times before receiving our first bread basket, including twice after our first flight of dishes arrived. No water was offered or provided. The menu was explained to us twice. But, hey, the place was hopping and it was their third day in business.
All in all, immensely satisfying. Bouchonné shoots straight to the top of the city's list of wine bars, alongside or maybe even surpassing BU.
comptoir à vin « bouchonné »
9 Fairmount East
Open evenings seven days a week and for lunch on weekdays