By Ron Bechtol
Sometimes, the merest whisper of an excuse is all that's required to round up some friends, pile in the car, and get outta Dodge - if only for a few hours. Here's an excuse that, if it doesn't rise to the level of a shout, at least can make itself heard over the daily din. It involves an easy drive to Boerne, and the rest is just as simple: Your first stop is a remarkably sophisticated wine shop where you can sample wines by the glass to your heart's content, then pick up a bottle to drink with dinner. The second stop is an atmospheric local restaurant with a very laissez-faire attitude about bringing in your own bottle - in fact, they suggest it.
Dwayne Barker's Cellar on Main may come as a surprise to wine-savvy San Antonians: It's attractive, well-lighted, and only the use of highly sculpted cedar on the bar and under wine racks suggests anything other than big-city swell.
The wine selection is upwards of 300 bottles, which isn't huge by retail standards, but here's the kicker: Every wine is available by the glass. The other good news is that the wines are already very fairly priced by the bottle, but a single glass will set you back just 25 percent of the bottle price on average.
Here's where the real fun comes in: You can peruse the entire collection if you wish - label shopping and exclaiming over finds - until something catches your eye. You then take it to the bar where it will be opened for you, even if you only want a single glass. (For wines more $100, you're asked to purchase two glasses minimum.) In case you're wondering, all the opened bottles are recorked under nitrogen at the end of the evening.
Not that we really needed one: It would be rewarding at this point to be able to say that the restaurant was as extraordinary a find as the wine bar (the likes of which we don't have in San Antonio). Alas, they're trying, but the outdoor setting is the real appeal here. Overhung with crêpe myrtle, the decks terrace down toward a lazy creek. Fat muscovies waddle about in comic choreography, late afternoon light slants through the tree canopy (hackberries, but who's counting), egrets and other avian acrobats wheel through the blue above ... it's kind of Barbizon school meets bluebonnet painters, if you can imagine such a mating. Yes, all this and a mere $2.50 corkage fee.
You're not brought Mason jars to drink from, either. But it was friends who prefer to take both their own wine and their own, classy glassware that turned me on to Trinity, so if you're equally persnickety, feel free. At that level, of course, our Cellar-recommended 2002 Napa Valley Big Ass Cab might seem a little declassé, but we loved it. Bordello blowzy - right down to the faux Botero label. It was big, ripe, chocolately, and no cheap trick, even at a modest $24.
Trinity scallops weren't selected as the perfect mate for our big-ass beverage, just for more of that wanted contrast, but they weren't quite there regardless. Uneven cooking, soupy texture, overbearing jalapeño and bacon, and a cap of grated parmesan that needed some serious broiling time were the minuses, but there were hints of a good dish waiting in the wings. More successful straight out of the chute was the rack of New Zealand lamb with "special herbs and seasonings." Special it was, with good flavor, precise cooking, and an appealing chipotle-raspberry sauce as a helpmate. The 14-ounce New York strip we substituted for the unavailable roasted pork shank landed somewhere in the middle: not really "special," but adequate to the occasion and enhanced by the bold cabernet. With the entrées came a casserole-style side dish of peas, carrots, corn, green beans, and cheese with bread crumbs. Again reminiscent of Junior League, it was odd but oddly OK.
Now, my idea of a perfect dessert under the circumstances might have been an exquisite pear tart (the Barbizon part) or, given the crop this year, a Fredricksburg peach crumble (the bluebonnet aspect), but it was not to be. The crème brûlée's sugar crust tapped nicely, but the taste was of refrigerator. An "Atkins-friendly" chocolate mousse did sport a few chunks of chocolate in the light mousse matrix, but we would have been happier with real whipped cream. Still, as the nature-imitating-art light faded, the last few drops of Big Ass remained to remind us to relish the rustic along with the refined. •