So Durham's first wine bar has opened up shop and has been serving the public since last Thursday evening. I stopped in on this first evening of service to chat with Matthew and sample a couple plates. Generally, I came away impressed if not floored.
First, the food is quite good. The small plates are more like medium plates, and two easily make up a meal. My only criticisms on the savory front are the food may lack some soul and that it kind of took a while to come out.
The first issue isn't so much a complaint as an observation. This feels and tastes like "restaurant" food of the big city, blanket, New/Seasonal American variety. Interestingly, there aren't all that many places that cook this type of food in Durham, so in that regard the offerings are actually relatively unique. I appreciated unconventional touches like cinnamon dusted scallops and miso-braised collards. (I was less impressed with the pumpkin risotto that, while a rich, season-appropriate accompaniment, was too tight to be really called risotto.) Still, despite the overall quality, the food lacks a certain "hook" in the way Watts does updated North Carolinian, Piedmont does piedmont-inspired local cuisine, and Vin Rouge is staunchly French. I fully assume that any timing issues will be resolved as the restaurant comes into its own, as ,again, my visit was on its first official day of service. Still, if this place gets popular the kitchen may get overwhelmed.
I spoke with Matthew about the lack of tables in favor of MUCH more open space and couches/loungers. This is apparently a conscious effort but with food this appealing, it might systematically limit the number of customers he can serve. We'll have to see how this pans out.
The two paired wines I sampled were quite tasty but failed to really open my eyes. The white with the scallops was a rioja blanco. Lots of citrus, little bit of grass, some faint but grounding bitterness. The wine lacked some body/gravity and finish, however. The red to go with the sirloin--a syrah from Argentina, I believe--was really big and spicy if lacking in complexity. It veered perhaps too New World for my tastes, but worked very well with the sweet potato hash. I found this to be a better pairing, as the cinnamon in the scallop dish somewhat overpowered the white.
I look forward to eating my way through the menu and drinking through the wine list. I really appreciate what's going on here and hope I can get some wine education out of my ensuing visits.
This last point is more about the area than the bar itself. Due to the market, Six Plates can't really open up big wines for tasting and thus must stick with relatively inexpensive, by-the-glass selections. Even if these are well-selected, part of the appeal of a wine bar is being able to sample serious wines without needing to shell out for a full bottle. In this regard, Six Plates, by the mere virtue of being in Durham, can't deliver. I'd love to get into vertical and regional tasting flights but this isn't really possible. Just an observation...
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