Restaurant review: The Wine Bistro

From the August 2, 2012 edition

“Good wine is a necessity of life for me.” No, that quote wasn’t slurred-out by a rickety Lindsay Lohan — it’s actually attributed to a high-minded Thomas Jefferson and appears on The Wine Bistro’s menu. While I’m not a constitutional “originalist” (a lot of those old dudes drank all day every day, snorted snuff and harbored weird beliefs about women, etc.), had Jefferson included “inexpensive” in his wine description, I’d yield to the wisdom of that brilliant founding father.

Which brings me back to The Wine Bistro (on Lane Avenue; there’s a branch in Worthington, too). There, you can drink good wine, yup, inexpensively. See, the frequently bustling place is a full-fledged wine shop. This means while you eat, you can get juiced-up with impunity on bottles let go at wine shop prices (plus a $7 corkage fee generously waived on Mondays and Tuesdays) rather than getting grape-gouged like you do at most restaurants.

As if that weren’t reason enough to visit The Wine Bistro, this smart business likewise serves good, unpretentious, vino-compatible food — also on the inexpensive side. No wonder its patio is often packed even though the view there currently features cars slaloming through an orange barrel obstacle course across from a shopping mall.

If you can tune out the background smooth jazz (not that hard), The Wine Bistro has an inviting vibe inside. Possibly designed by a World Market style fanatic, it’s fairly handsome, perfectly lit (more dark than bright), equipped with mismatched chairs plus a baby grand piano and, besides a longish highly polished wooden bar and comfy tables, offers pleasantly eccentric wine shop nook and alcove dining areas.

Popcorn might sound like an odd appetizer — until you nibble on The Wine Bistro’s winning and wine-friendly Tuscan variety ($4). Crackly, salty, herby, Parmesan-laced and slightly sweet, it’s a simple joy to eat.

Ditto for other starters such as the robust Rustic Antipasto Platter ($12). Served with crusty bread, it’s an appealing array of salamis, cheeses, olives and seared mild sausage discs augmented by a pungent whole head of sweetly and creamily roasted garlic plus fat slices of caper-sprinkled, fire-roasted sweet peppers.

Swamped in melted cheese and rich tomato sauce and quaintly delivered in an oven-hot crock (with crostini), the breadcrumb-bound yet meaty, softball-sized signature Braised Veal Meatball ($8) was mildly peppery, herby, tender and juicy. In other words, what’s not to like?

Scallop Lollipops were also quite pleasant ($12). Aggressively cajun spiced, smokily pan-seared and playfully speared with sucker sticks, the lingering sting delivered by a perfectly cooked quartet of big boys was partially squelched by a sweet soy glaze.

Grazing on shared plates is the way to go here, and that can apply to entrees like: a doublewide Tenderloin and Summer Vegetable Salad ($15 — a lotta arugula plus usually beautifully seared and very tender meat); The Juliette flatbread ($12 — one of several snappy, thin crusted pizzas, it’s garlic-edged, comforting and carefully topped with buttery Brie, deeply caramelized onions and pear); meaty, nicely crusted golden brown Crab Cakes (with orange marmalade-like and mustard sauces plus a chunky and refreshing, multi-vegetable slaw — $8 for a starter, $16 for an entree); and the healthy Bistro Mediterranean Chicken ($12 — two boneless breast pieces were marginally though not deal-breaking dry and expertly aided by creamy butter beans, grilled asparagus, sauteed arugula and a zippy, wine-inflected sauce).

Is wine — and all this food — really a necessity? Maybe not. But if Jefferson would’ve written that “We the People” deserve grub this good and inexpensive, I’d constitutionally agree.

Photos by Tessa Berg