Among the frequent offerings on Six Plates Wine Bar's weekly changing menu is a cheese plate. A recent selection -- a goat's milk Montasia from Elodie Farms in Rougemont; a well-aged Gouda; and Benedictine, a semifirm cheese made with a blend of sheep's, goat's and cow's milk -- was notable for its delightful quirkiness (no stodgy old "one firm, one soft, one blue" rule here, thank you very much). So, for that matter, were the accompaniments: pine nuts, Granny Smith apple salsa and honey oozing from a small piece of honeycomb. But the thing that stands out most in my memory is the menu's description of the suggested wine pairing (Cantine Sant'Agata Ruché "Il Cavaliere" '05) as "the closest thing you'll ever get to Boone's Farm Strawberry Hill without getting laughed at."
If you're getting the idea that Six Plates owner Matthew Beason doesn't take food and wine seriously, you're right -- in a way. Ask Beason (he's the amiable guy with the contagious smile behind the bar), and he'll tell you he thinks we've gotten so hyper-focused on analyzing every hairsplitting nuance of the restaurant experience that we've lost sight of one of its most important aspects: fun.
But don't mistake Beason's laid-back attitude for lack of credentials. He was formerly a co-owner of Pop's and Rue Cler and, before that, general manager of Nana's. His passion for wine began in college, and he counts West End Wine Bar owner Jared Resnick and erstwhile Il Palio sommelier Damon Haynes among his mentors.
Six Plates, Beason's first solo venture, brings all his experience together in the form of a wine bar whose deceptively modest menu consists of six small plate offerings. A suggested by-the-glass wine pairing is offered for each dish, further easing the decision-making. A separate listing of about 180 wines available by the bottle -- not only one of the area's most extensive cellars, but also one of its most intelligently chosen -- is available but by no means required reading. The casual lounge setting sets just the right mood.
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Chef Ted Domville, formerly of Chive, a small plates restaurant in San Diego, clearly takes his cue from Beason's "food should be fun" philosophy. He tosses a mesclun salad in an orange vinaigrette, then bundles it up with enoki mushrooms in a "ribbon" of crusty bread. In another presentation featuring diced raw tuna and avocado in a mango-vanilla vinaigrette, jicama supplies crunchy contrast evocative of water chestnuts. And in a grown-up twist on the universal childhood favorite, tomato soup and cheese sandwich, the chef pairs gazpacho (served in a glass demitasse to showcase its vivid color) with a crisp two-bite panino filled with a blend of chèvre, avocado and North Carolina shrimp.
Those shrimp get a starring role in Domville's take on a spring roll, where their flavor sings against a backup chorus of crisp wrapper and spicy mango purée.
The chef occasionally misses the mark, but rarely by much. The crust was too dense and bready for my taste in the flatbread, and the tomato sauce too thick. But the flatbread is so popular that it has been afforded permanent status on the menu, so what do I know?
Well, I do know one thing: Eat dessert, which takes the form of an assortment of house-made gelati, with options including salted caramel, avocado, Thai basil and (my favorite) Yuzu.
Oh, and I know one more thing: The Cantine Sant'Agata is indeed the closest I've ever gotten to Boone's Farm Strawberry Hill. Nobody laughed at me, either, but -- as I'm sure Beason would be happy to know -- we sure had fun.