Ahhh, The Grape. That wonderful little neighborhood wine bistro on Greenville Avenue, the hidden gem that is consistently voted one of the "Most Romantic" restaurants in Dallas. My first visit was to celebrate a close girl friend's birthday over ten years ago, seven years ago my husband gave me my engagement ring here, and two and a half years ago we ate dinner here the night before my daughter was born. I confess, The Grape was one of our main motivations for making our home in Vickery Place. In your people watching you'll notice the couple next to you is on their first date and the couple on the other side of you is celebrating their 20th anniversary, because once you've been here you can't help but be drawn back.
Inside, the restaurant is wonderfully intimate, with subdued lighting and soft hues. You could forget you were in East Dallas, and instead imagine yourself in a small European bistro. Husband and wife team Brian and Courtney Luscher are now the owners of this Dallas institution (as of 2007), with Brian as the Executive Chef and Courtney as the General Manager and Sommelier. We have watched and applauded how Brian and Courtney have continued and improved the quality of the Grape Restaurant, that is poised to celebrate its 40th anniversary in 2012. The Grape is truly Dallas' original and favorite wine bistro, with the best wines-by-glass happy hour menu in the entire Metroplex. Right here, in Vickery Place!
Of course, for most of the year, except on the very hottest days in the early evening, the patio provides the best seats in the house. It is the combination of the European experience of the sidewalk cafe with delicious food, fine wine, and the sights and sounds of Dallas' most popular cruising strip, Lower Greenville.
Tonight we were here to enjoy the monthly Wine Dinner at The Grape, this month featuring the Bouchaine Vineyards, from southern Napa Valley, in the Carneros region.
This digestive cracker with creamy blue cheese mousse and sliced grape was a perfect little tease to get things started. The first glasses of wine made their appearance at our table of eight, and so did Mike Richmond, the General Manager / Wine Maker of Bouchaine Vineyards. A soft spoken man with an impressive command of adjectives, he explained how Bouchaine was known for its Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. The Carneros area is cooler than the northerly parts of Napa Valley, and therefore is better suited for the cultivation of cooler climate varietals, such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Their Chardonnay, he said, was particularly known for its mouth feel and texture.
The first course consisted of littleneck clams and Chef Brian's chorizo, with green garlic, caramelized lemon, and Italian parsley. The chardonnay was the 2009 Bouchaine Estate Chardonnay. What a feast of the senses! Brighter citrus and grapefruit flavors with a velvety texture, contrasted with the spicy chorizo and delicious flavors of the broth that just begged us to dip the fresh warn bread in it. We complied. And then requested more bread for our dipping pleasure...
When Mike returned to our table to converse about the wine, it was obvious that Pinot Noir is his redhead mistress. He demured that Pinot Noir is the most emotional of the reds, while Cabernet's are more intellectual. When he said "Cabernet Sauvignon knocks your socks off, while Pinot Noir slips your stockings down", I'm pretty sure all four women at the table swooned.
The Pinot under discussion was the 2008 Bouchaine Pinot Noir ~ One of our companions said the finish reminded him of grape soda, in a happy reminiscent way from his childhood. Layers of flavors and brightness of fruit, with luscious and juicy cherry and raspberry, roses, coffee and peppery spices. Whatever your adjective preference, it was the wine we liked best from the evening and we ordered two more bottles of it for the table.
The Pinot Noir was paired with Crispy Duck Confit, fennel-black pepper sausage, Texas shiitake and beech mushroom blanquette, favas, fiddle heads and german butterball potatoes. A whole mouthful of good. Random Note: We've noticed that the Grape's chef seems to have an affinity for making amazing homemade sausage. It's always a treat.
Owner Chef Brian came by the table to greet us and to see how we were doing. When we expressed our appreciation of the excellently paired dishes, he explained how he likes the wine dinners to be about the wine, not the food. Ideally, as he explained to us, the food should play the supporting role, while opening the wine up to all the senses.
We ordered another two bottles of the Pinot Noir for the table, which in retrospect may have been a mistake! By the time the final course came out, we were sufficiently lubricated that we forgot to take a photo before the dessert was devoured! We asked our server if Chef Brian would be gracious enough to prepare another dessert plate for photography, which he kindly obliged. Thank you Chef Brian! I'm sure he thought we were just making up an excuse to get an extra yummy dessert, but we were too tipsy by far to be that clever.
The 2010 Bouchaine Bouche d'Or Late Harvest was paired with a roasted pear tartlette with sweet onion jam & cave aged blue cheese, toasted hazelnuts, texas honey, pear caramel, and buttermilk sorbet.
Mike returned with a plate of lemon slices, and suggested that we explore and experiment with our sweet wine, by squeezing in a little lemon juice. I can hear all the wine puritans gasping in horror, but stop being so stuffy and learn to play with your wine! Sprinkle lavender flowers in your sparkly as my friend Ann does or try various aromatic herbs in your white wine. The pungent blue cheese was a great complement to the opulent sweetness of the dessert wine, but after the dessert was gone...the lemon's acidity took the sweetness down a notch, leaving a mellow afterglow.