The problem with Top 10 restaurant lists is that no sooner do I file one than I discover another eatery I’d like to add to the roundup. Such is the case with Stonehome Wine Bar, which will start the list for 2007.
The owners, Bill Stenehjem (Stenehjem is Norwegian for “stone home”) and Rose Hermann opened the bar in 2003. The couple has lived in Fort Greene since the early 1980s, when “most of the food in the neighborhood was served behind bulletproof glass,” says Stenehjem.
Stenehjem serves as the bar’s sommelier, while Hermann, who is an artist and furniture designer, created the warm, modern interior. The sensuously curved cherry-wood bar, the toffee-colored Ultrasuede banquettes, the flattering lighting, and music played at a volume that encourages conversation contribute to a sexy ambience that invites lingering. It’s a definite date place.
In April, the proprietors hired chef John Gibson (formerly of Veritas in Manhattan and Lucy’s in Babylon, Long Island) who added a full dinner menu to the snacks, cheese plate and charcuterie already offered. His dishes are perfectly balanced with flavors harmonizing, not fighting one another, on the plate. When the amiable Stenehjem is in attendance, he can offer suggestions for ideal wine partnering to any dish. If he’s away for the evening, the waitstaff is knowledgeable about the extensive wine list and can offer suggestions. Six “flights” of wine (three “short pours” with a theme: vineyard, year, region etc.) are available each evening, as well as 35 wines by the glass. Meanwhile, the cellar holds 200 bottles from international vineyards.
The soup of the evening, a Vermont cheddar and potato bisque with the luxurious texture of heavy cream, was given a sweet and smoky note by a scattering of chewy Applewood smoked bacon and vibrant jolt of chive-infused oil. The rich berry flavors and slight tartness of the Cannonau Riserva complimented and balanced the richness of the soup.
Later, Gibson melded pork belly — which, thanks to its unctuous, succulent meat and crisp crust, is this year’s “it” ingredient — with a soft poached egg, a crisp round of brioche and a scattering of toothsome, buttery yellow-foot chanterelle and hedgehog mushrooms. It was an inspired quartet that soared with a splash of poultry jus that cut the richness of the pork and egg yolk. A soft Pinot Noir from Germany held its own with the strong flavors of the dish.
Muscadet de Sevre-et-Maine served as a crisp, bright foil to two lovely seafood starters: seared Gulf shrimp in a briny shellfish “essence” over basmati rice, and cod fish cakes topped with a sprightly piquillos pepper sauce. A hint of tamari, with its mellowed soy aroma, lent an intriguing dimension to the shrimp. Codfish is rather flat on its own, but with a brilliant, scarlet-colored piquillos pepper sauce and bits of spicy chorizo, the moist little cake brightened considerably.
The only negative comment I can make about the “spaghetti” (that’s Gibson’s word, not mine) is the presentation. Such a generous serving of the pasta, heavy with chewy black trumpet mushrooms and sweet caramelized root vegetables, needed a bigger platform than the small soup bowl that barely contained the goods. We managed though, scarfing down every bit of the entree, between sips of a well-matched, hearty Cotes Du Rhone.
Some palates may find the beef brisket a touch sweet, but I loved the delicate fruit and sour notes. The beef, long simmered in red wine, was tender without falling into strings, and sat atop a pool of smooth, tangy-sweet parsnip puree. To cut the denseness of the meat, Gibson topped it with lemon zest, herbs and freshly grated horseradish that added heat, freshness and the clean bite of citrus. Stenehjem’s pairing of Guelbenzu Evo, with its berry, peppery flavors and slight bitterness, was an inspired choice.
Only three desserts are offered each evening. While the crème brulee, lightly flavored with maple, is a fine example of the finale, and a moist carrot cake topped with scoop of mascarpone isn’t bad, both seem a bit pedestrian after such carefully conceived starters. You’d be better off capping the evening by sharing a plate of artisanal cheeses (a nutty, olivey Roncal, a sheep’s milk cheese from Spain, was the evening’s special selection) and a glass of tawny port.
Stonehome Wine Bar delivers a great dining experience with plenty of wine to match. Literally. What better way to start the year?
Stonehome Wine Bar (87 Lafayette Ave. at South Portland Avenue in Fort Greene) aaccepts American Express, MasterCard and Visa. Entrees: $14-$20. Dinner is available daily. For information, call (718) 624-9443 or visit www.stonehomewinebar....