For anyone who’s ever been to Fairfax, Ca in Marin County, they would never think of it as a food or wine destination. With the town’s prevailing western facade and a seemingly large hippie population, a modern wine bar seems out of place. Thanks to 123 Bolinas wine bar, Fairfax can now be known for more than just tie dye shirt stores and The Good Earth health food grocer. You walk in to a small, casual space that’s definitely a locals hang out, with a nice mix of individuals and couples of all ages. It’s impeccably designed, combining modern minimal decor with rustic touches in the form of low wood tables and stools, hanging Edison bulb light fixtures and a floating fireplace along much of the restaurant’s periphery. In the center is a high communal table, and at the front is a large bar.
Bolinas emphasizes seasonal and local foods, and artisan wines. The dishes, which rotate regularly, are always fantastic and inventive, like high end restaurant culinary statements at affordable prices. In fact, the food is so great that it tends to upstage the wine selection. That’s not to say the wines are not enjoyable and appropriately paired because they are, but the food is better. I’ve been here a lot, love it and have never been disappointed.
TEN BELLS NYC
Wine professionals, wine geeks and hipsters pour into this Lower East Side hot spot all week long. The allure isn’t the amount of space or the decor, as it’s dark, small and quaint with its low indie music playing in the background, but nothing special to look at. The charm of The Ten Bells is the food and wine list, and that’s high praise given it’s located in what’s probably the city’s most robust foodie scene. To make a selection, you won’t be given a menu, instead you’ll have to refer to the chalkboard or illicit recommendations from one of the owners or bartenders. The recommendations come in particularly handy when choosing wine, especially if you’re not savvy in the ways of and producers of natural and biodynamic wines, which is their entire list. Either way, you can’t go wrong cause the happy hour oysters are slamming, the food is layered with flavors, and the wine is interesting, unique.
A big chunk of the wine list comes from the most touted natural and biodynamic producers from every world region, including selections from Jenny and Francois or Luis Dresner. This is where the wine geek and wine professional customer base comes into the picture as reps from these portfolios, as well as wine producers and winemakers often hang out to sample The Ten Bells wares. Expect to pay the usual, or more than usual NYC high price for wine by the glass.
Photo Credit: Ten Bells
TIA POL NYC
In the last few years, New York has experienced an explosion of wine bars across the city, with particular interest in Spanish wine and tapas bars. Probably one of the first and most notable is Tia Pol in the heart of Chelsea and on the edge of famous art gallery district. When you walk in, you feel like you’ve entered an authentic old world, back street Madrid-type tapas bar. It’s a diminutive space, with narrow hallway, dark, cozy interior and thick wood bar and tables.
Even better than the aesthetics are the food and wine lists. Here the kitchen staff is creating traditional dishes, with modern twists and presentation, pleasing to the most discriminating of native Spain patrons. The bocata de lomo adobado (marinated pork loin, piquillo pepper and tetilla chees sandwich) and the Trucha a la navarra (Navarran style trout) are utter decadence in a small plate and just two of many fantastic selections. When I say decadence and fantastic, I choose my words carefully and without exaggeration. When I took a Spanish transplant to lunch at Tia Pol, the native of Navarro exclaimed that this was the most authentic and best food from her homeland that she had experienced in New York. The wine selections are exclusively Spanish, hailing from every area of the country. Much of the authenticity is due to the love for all things Spain by the owner, chef and wine buyer who often vacation there.
UNION LARDER SF
From the people who brought San Francisco the ever popular Little Vine specialty grocery store in North Beach, comes the recently opened Union Larder, a wine, cheese and charcuterie bar in Russian Hill. Taking over a space formerly occupied by a parking lot on Hyde Street, owners Melissa Gugni and Jay Esopenko, along with the design agency that responsible for the Apple stores, have created a special space that is both comfortable, warm and inviting, yet also hip, modern and industrial. The 800 square foot space with windows along the entire side of building has approximately 30-seats, many of which are at the generous size bar. Behind the bar is more than just a bartender. There is a full-service cheese counter, with much slicing, dicing and activity. Beyond the bar and along some of the tables in the back is a larder inspired floor to ceiling shelving and cupboards, with a rolling ladder. The shelves are full with many of the grocery items found in Little Vine.
Co-owner Jay’s passion for wine and food comes through on the menu as he was greatly influenced by Cava bars he frequented when living in Spain. There’s a wonderful and welcoming diverse wine, cheese and appetizers list, including olives.
Hyde Street is an iconic residential street among the city's hillyest and most beautiful, with cable cars going up and down along several blocks. It's know for beautiful old architecture, with a wonderful mix of homes, restaurants and shops. It's just steps away from intersecting with the top of the famous Lombard street with all its twists and turns. Despite all this credibility, one would expect an onslaught of tourists, but it's surprisingly and welcomely an area frequented mostly by locals.