Dining Out

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Chop’s Wine Bar

Out of a possible five

Wine bar serves up chic fun

With its laid-back atmosphere, hip menu and expansive wine list, it is just the kind of place you go to unwind after a long day at work.

Or maybe it’s where you relax over a few glasses of vino and gossip with friends after an afternoon of shopping at Jefferson Pointe. Or perhaps it is where you take that first date because you want to impress but not be so formal that the fun disappears.

The Chop’s Wine Bar is exactly what a wine bar should be.

The menu is upscale, with ingredients that will impress any gourmand, but those ingredients are presented in a fun way. Take the Polpette di Carne, for example. Wagyu short ribs, brisket and sirloin were used to make three racquetball-sized meatballs. They were flanked by a basil bread pudding and coated in luxurious salumi Bolognese.

The meatballs were exquisite – rich, fatty and juicy, like Wagyu should be. The orange-brown sauce was a bit sweet, but diced meats from the bar’s salumi course menu in the sauce – especially the hot capicola – produced several other bursts of flavor. The sauce was so good, I found myself reaching for a spoon after I soaked up as much as I could with the crispy brown cake of bread pudding.

Separate salumi and cheese menus were welcome additions as they are at any wine-themed restaurant. The varieties I tried were impressive – from the tangy manchego sheep’s milk cheese to the dry, dense salami finocchiona with its distinct cured meat gaminess – but the serving sizes were a tad stingy, so more than one serving might be in order.

The two other starters I tried personified gourmet bar food.

The fresh pork rinds arrived still sizzling, and my server told us to “eat ’em while they’re poppin.” Lightly dusted with a salty, mildly spicy seasoning, they were crunchy but melted in your mouth. I was in pork fat heaven.

The bourbon bacon popcorn fell flat in execution. Mine was not even hot enough to melt the shaved parmesan on top, and most of the kernels were half popped. Chef Brian Schreffler creates a bourbon and bacon cocktail of sorts first, then drains the grease from it and pops the popcorn in it, then adds the bacon back before serving. The bacon was great, but I did not detect much bourbon on the surprisingly dry kernels.

The wine bar tries to be sort of a tapas place in which parties order several smaller portions with the intent of sharing while sipping wine. But Chop’s really didn’t pull it off. The main selections were priced accordingly – from $8 to $15 – but they were not presented in a way that encouraged sharing.

The seared lamb lollipops were perfectly rare, tender and mild, and the roasted pears and drizzle of balsamic vinegar were the right sweet and sharp accents. The watercress and whipped goat cheese with mint also included were rather unnecessary.

The barbecued gulf shrimp consisted of three large shrimp seasoned with a profound spice blend that was way too salty and added little spice. The fried goat cheese grits and braised collards lifted the sub par shrimp, however. The grits crunched with each bite, unveiling the soft, sweet, creamy interior, and the wilted greens were just bitter enough to tame them.

The Herbivore Flatbread was the easiest selection to share. The small wedges of crust were well done – thin and crunchy with a nice smoky, charred flavor that mixed well with the salty parmesan, creamy fresh mozzarella and super sweet grape tomatoes.

The service at Chop’s Wine Bar was attentive if just a bit deliberate. It’s not the kind of place where you are going to feel rushed, but you may find yourself waiting if you are, indeed, not settling in for the night.

Given wine was the specialty, I was pleased when one member of my party was offered a new glass of wine gratis after ordering one she did not care for. The only real error was that during both visits clean flatware was not provided with desserts.

Those desserts followed the bar’s gourmet-meets-everyday feel, starting with the Coffee and Donuts. Freshly fried, cinnamon and sugar-coated beineits are served with a coffee cup holding espresso crème brulée for dipping. The doughnuts were crisp and hot, and the creamy brulée, which was topped with whipped cream, was scrumptious.

The French toast was also delicious with big chunks of egg-coated Texas toast, a sticky bourbon-caramel sauce and a scoop of gooey, melting butter pecan ice cream that was chock full of big, crunchy nuts. Brown sugar-candied bacon brittle bits garnished the dish, and they, too, were welcome additions.

Restaurant: Chop’s Wine Bar

Address: 6421 W. Jefferson Blvd.

Phone: 436-9220

Hours: 4 to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 4 to midnight Friday and Saturday

Cuisine: American

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: Full bar

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: No

Menu: Pork rinds ($5), bourbon bacon popcorn ($4), BBQ shrimp ($12), Polpettes di Carne ($12), Herbivore Flatbread ($10), seared lamb lollipops ($15), dessert ($7)

Rating breakdown: Food: ** (3-star maximum); atmosphere: * (1 maximum), service: 1/2 (1 maximum)

Note: Restaurants are categorized by price range: $ (less than $20 for three-course meal), $$ ($20-$29); $$$ ($30-$39), $$$$ ($40-$49), $$$$$ ($50 and up).

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. E-mail him at rduvall@jg.net, call at 461-8130, or go to the “Dining Out” topic of “The Board” at www.journalgazette.net. DuVall’s past reviews can also be found at the website, and you can hear Ryan from 3 to 4 p.m. every Thursday on 92.3 FM, The Fort.