With dwindling dining dollars and more people searching for value, I took to two new South Sound wine bars in search of affordable splurges. My goal: a few glasses of wine and a few nibbles for around $40 or less.
NORTHWEST VINTAGE WINE BAR
Where: 208 S. Meridian, Puyallup
Hours: 4 p.m.-11 p.m. Thursday-Saturdays
Prices: Noshes under $15
This wine bar should look familiar to locals. This is the second round for Northwest Vintage Wine Bar. The first round was from June 2004 to April 2006 – and ended after a car drove through the front window of the business, said owner Nicola McDonald.
A coffee bar came next, but the owners closed last September. That’s when McDonald decided to give Northwest Vintage another try. In late January, she reopened and now serves mostly Northwest wines and noshes Thursday through Saturday evenings.
It’s a sophisticated, welcoming environment at Northwest Vintage – the color scheme skews earthy, and well-spaced seating invites lounging and lingering.
On a Friday night visit, the lights were dimmed moody and a young couple sat closely together on a couch in front of the fireplace. A party of 40-something diners shared a bottle of red wine. At another table, a couple enjoyed a wine flight – $10 for three 2-ounce pours. The bar appeals to grownups, although on my visit, I spotted one couple with babe in arms.
The menu is a selection of about a dozen small nibbles, including things like beef tenderloin skewers ($12), cocktail pizza ($12), a cheese platter ($11) and bruschetta ($9-$10).
Our server was eager to assist with our wine selections, and provided knowledgeable answers. Eight by-the-glass choices were on the menu – four reds and four whites – but most came from the same winery – Terra Blanca of Benton City. The wine bar offers a revolving menu of wines by the glass –one or two wineries may be featured on one night, while a half dozen wineries may be featured on another.
There were no wine-food pairings listed on the menu, so we told our server what we were interested in ordering and asked for her thoughts. She recommended the Terra Blanca syrah ($8). My dining partner isn’t a fan of Terra Blanca and our affordable night meant a bottle was out of the question (a choice of 52 bottles start at $24), so our server recommended a glass of beer from an Everett brewery – Scuttlebutt IPA ($4). He bit. The bar also has martinis on the menu ($8).
The recommended pairings proved delicious with prime rib sliders ($14) and stuffed mushrooms ($11). The sliders – on the specials list on my visit – were mini sandwiches meant as a light bite, not a meal. Prime rib with melted Swiss played tender and meaty between chewy ciabatta rolls. The creamy horseradish offered a nasal sting of a bite. The accompanying mixed greens glistened with a light treatment of vinaigrette.
The stuffed mushrooms ($11) arrived sizzling hot from the kitchen. Seven large mushroom caps were topped with a golden-brown and freshly baked mixture of cheddar cheese, bacon, parmesan cheese and green onions. They were delicious and hearty, but for $11, I expected the inclusion of shrimp, crab or lobster or an ingredient that commanded the price. They were good, just not a good value considering the ingredients and portion size.
And that was the theme of my night – value. After spending $25 on food and $12 on beverages for two, I expected to leave the restaurant a bit more satisfied. For a better value I might order the baked brie ($12) – baked inside puff pastry and served with a choice of toppers (apples, pears and candied walnuts, or smoked salmon, herbs and fresh chives).
Terra blanca syrah: $8
Scuttlebutt IPA: $4
Prime rib sliders: $14
Stuffed mushrooms: $11
Total bill: $37 (not including tax or tip)
HARBOR GREENS WINE BAR WHERE: 5275 OLYMPIC DRIVE N.W., GIG HARBOR
Hours: The wine bar/kitchen serves wine and food from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, and 3 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday. Coffee served from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.
Price: Noshes under $10
It’s fair to expect to find good value at the new Harbor Greens Wine Bar – maybe more so than at Northwest Vintage – because Harbor Greens bills itself as a wine bar for every budget. Owners Chad Roy and Scott Teodoro opened Harbor Greens in early March as an outpost of their business next door – the Harbor Greens market. They opened the wine bar inside the neighboring Forza coffee shop.
When searching for Harbor Greens Wine Bar, just look for the Forza sign – the business still operates as a coffeehouse by day. Nibbles and wine are served Wednesday through Saturday evenings.
The atmosphere is what you’d expect of a Forza coffee store –dark wood tables, earthy colors and a double-sided see-through fireplace are signature décor for this small coffee chain. The addition of the wine bar is not overt, but noticeable. Wine bottles line a wall, and a small bar with wine glasses has a sign designating the wine bar side of the business.
My dining partner and I arrived an hour or so before wine service started, so the scene felt very coffeehouse with teens milling about, sipping iced drinks.
Around 3 p.m., a server brought candles around to the tables – signifying that the wine bar was open, I suppose.
The menu is a collection of around 15 appetizer-style noshes and sandwiches – including grilled panini ($7), naan caprese ($7), smoked salmon and boursin ($10) and an artisan cheese plate ($10). The wine selection offers 16 by-the-glass choices – available in half pours or full pours, averaging $4 for a half pour (3 ounces) and $7-9 for a full pour (6 ounces).
More than 125 wines are offered by the bottle, with domestic and imported selections. Bottle prices start at $17 (with prices as high as $296, but most falling solidly between $30 to $50).
Our server didn’t offer much direction for wine-food pairings, but the menu certainly did with a recommended wine match for every dish. Because we were ordering multiple nibbles and none of the recommended glasses commanded our attention, we went with our preferences for wine – a 2007 Altos Las Hormigas malbec ($4, half glass) and 2007 Luzon Monastrell syrah ($4, half glass). The wine was a nice precursor before our noshes arrived.
We ordered the grilled chicken pesto ($7) sandwich, which pairs a crispy grill-pressed sourdough bread base with layers of melted brie, chicken breast, a smear of pesto and slices of tomatoes. It was a hearty sandwich with an even ratio of crispy bread to oozing cheese.
The sweet onion brie ($8) was a thick, 4-inch wedge of slightly warmed brie topped with a sweet onion jam and almonds, paired with slices of rustic Italian bread.
The prosciutto bruschetta ($6) was a less filling option. Four thin slices of crispy (maybe too crispy) toasted crostini came topped with a slice of prosciutto, mozzarella cheese and a sweet red pepper jam that overpowered the richness and flavor of the prosciutto.
We left stuffed and satisfied – and appreciative of the value.
Luzon Monastrell syrah, half pour: $4
Altos Hormigas malbec, half pour: $4
Grilled chicken panini: $7
Sweet onion brie: $8
Prosciutto bruschetta: $6
Total: $29 (not including tax and tip)