200 Navarro, Ste. 100 (enter on Market Street)
7am-3pm & 5pm-2am Mon-Fri; 9am-2am Sat; 9am-3pm Sun
The topic raised its head again at an unlikely place recently — Drink Coffee & Wine bar. The specific object of my inspiration was the Mediterranean Board, a $17 cheese plate with major entrée envy.
It was a handsome board to be sure: Thickly sliced sausage coronets pinned together with olives and strewn with walnuts and dried cranberries; a large bunch of grapes for bulk, a few decent artichoke hearts for pizazz; small chunks of pepper jack, Irish cheddar, and a tasty but dry gorgonzola fulfilling the cheese obligation. And there was a cheeky winter caprese, that classic compilation of sliced tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil — or, in this case, basil pesto. Don’t try this at home, at least not right now. Decent mozzarella and a good pesto almost pulled it off, but patience is the better part of virtue when it comes to tomatoes: Wait until summer.
Drink’s bar-food menu is more extensive than that of many gin joints in town, though next-door Zinc is never to be dismissed, Copa does an especially good job, and the oddly interesting offerings at the otherwise just-odd Posh on Broadway are worth considering. Roasted red peppers figure prominently at Drink, and nowhere more than in the bruschetta with roasted peppers and eggplant. Looking for a companion to a glass of aromatic South African cabernet, I ordered it and was delighted with the result — despite the absence of any eggplant whatsoever and the superfluous appearance of chile-flaked olive oil as a dip or drizzle. If it weren’t for the fact that the peppers are preeminent, I might also have suggested the bruschetta as an adjunct to the (unpressed but toasted) panino of herb-roasted chicken with provolone and garlic aioli; it was all so white. And so garlicky that any herbs in the chicken were blown away. Arugula, that’s what it needed.
Owner James Beswick explained that Drink’s wine list is also seasonal in type and quantity. (This not being high season downtown — tourists being like tomatoes — he doesn’t want to have a lot of wine bottles under vacuum that might not get consumed in due time.) And if the house-made hummus is year-round, it nevertheless pairs perfectly with a lusty red wine such as the Fourplay from Sicily. But this pairing does raise another issue: Should the eats be polite partners to a variety of wines, or should we be challenged to come up with wines that can go mano a mano with full-throttle food? As you might be guessing, we found the hummus good but, as an object of interest in its own right, in need of maybe a little cumin, some lemon, a little garlic …
The Tuscan wrap, a hearty new addition to Drink’s menu, on the other hand, is no pale wallflower. Late-night food is advertised on Drink’s sidewalk sandwich board, and this wrap, with its nicely acidic goat cheese, more roasted peppers, artichoke hearts, and an unapologetic chipotle aioli, is a good contender for post-midnight munchies. Especially when consumed in the company of another South African, the MAN chenin blanc. The Christopher Creek CA viognier was also soft enough to balance the mordant chipotle.
Even truncated, Drink’s wine list is as refreshingly eclectic and wide-ranging as the local art that usually adorns the walls at this comfortable and clubby hangout. Or maybe I should say comfortable-looking. One of my companions felt like Lily Tomlin’s Edith Ann in the deep leather sofas, and even a large gentleman, whose belly might have merited a separate zip code, looked as though a hoist would be required to extract him from the clutches of the couch at evening’s end.
Still, with enough Argentine malbec, Spanish tempranillo, California zinfandel, and German riesling to choose from, the issue of comfort might be moot. And if you start big and bold with a Pillar Box red from Down Under, the music, which began the evening with disco-techno thump and segued into a more wine-friendly acoustic mode later, also might pass unnoticed. Music, I contend, doesn’t really want to be noticed that much at a wine bar — even a full-bar wine bar. All bets might be off during late-night hours, of course. You may have the place much to yourself early in the evening; late-night is alleged to be a different scene. We didn’t hang around to find out.