Tag Archives: Wine Bars

I is for Iron Bridge Wine Company

A while ago I promised that I’d make Columbia’s Iron Bridge Wine Company my I spot because I felt the restaurant had been dealt an unfair hand by animal rights vandals. My sense of righteous indignation, which usually leads me into trouble, led me to a nice wine spot.

 IBWC, located in what I remember from childhood as a biker bar, is perched along Route 108 facing one of the few pastoral scenes left in Howard County. Inside, the décor is all dark wood and rich red draperies that stop just this side of the Moulin Rouge or a R&B slow jam video. The bar is beautiful, and I wish we’d spent our happy hour there, especially since they have a $20 bottle special on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Instead we went for a wine tasting class in the adjacent dining room from what the restaurant calls “Iron Bridge University.”

IBU was a deal for $25 – samplings of two whites, two reds and a port from Spain and Portugal. The students were arranged around a tall center table set up with five different wine glasses and the teacher (Waiter? Bartender? Sommelier?) talked for 45 uninterrupted minutes about older versus newer vines, appellations, and Portuguese geography. It was like drinking from a fire hose hooked up to a hydrant full of wine. The grapes were good, and the price was right (especially since it got us 10% off our total bill), but I didn’t learn one single thing. Maybe my cohorts and I aren’t ready for Iron Bridge University. We’re more Iron Bridge Community College, or Iron Bridge Reform School for Naughty Girls who Sit in the Back of Class and Giggle.

 My favorite selection was a not-quite-sparkling white that we ordered a bottle of after class . I’m a sucker for anything carbonated (soda, beer, seltzer, champagne, prosecco, etc), and it was a decent match for Annie’s roasted veggie pizza as well as the complimentary tuna tartare appetizer that came with the class. My two fellow “students” were offput by the super-sweet port, but personally I think tastings are for sampling the more outlandish stuff that you wouldn’t necessarily buy a whole bottle of on spec. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. I generally like port (albeit more in winter), but it was still too sweet for me.

 We also ordered “grilled cheese” off the menu, which was a grilled round of brie served with crostini and macerated strawberries. Grilled brie sounds weird, but was quite tasty and I’d love to try it on the grill at home. Lulu, as she did at the Diamondback Tavern, housed a plate of risotto quite happily. In honor of the original foie gras protesting that inspired my trip, I order the chicken liver and foie gras pate, oddly presented in two Chinese soupspoons with crostini (a bit bready for the task at hand) and truffle butter (to die for). I enjoyed all the richness, but I still don’t quite understand why people throw down over this stuff. Doesn’t seem worth the fuss to me, from either the gourmet or animal rights angle.

The service wasn’t as silky smooth as I’ve seen in some high-end spots, but it was still quite good. They were generous with the extra crostini, and when our server didn’t know the answer to a question, she admitted that she didn’t, looked into it and relayed an answer back to us. I asked for a wine to go with my pate, since I have no idea what the traditional pairing would be, and the bartender offered up a crazy-rich white that was a terrific match. It was the only drink I tried that wasn’t from the tasting menu, but it was great. The wine list at IWBC has some great bargains for down-and-outers like me, and some pricier choices for the fat cats. Definitely worth the trip to HoCo.


I is for Irate

I usually don’t pick out my AHH spots too far in advance, but after this I’m reserving the I spot for Iron Bridge Wine Company in Columbia. which has been vandalized twice in the past month. The first time, on March 23, anti-foie gras protestors took credit for the act. This time, no one has stepped up, but it appears to be the same group.

I have had foie gras exactly once in my life, at 1789 in Georgetown. It tasted like meat butter, and I was undecided on if I liked it or not. I’ve read Fast Food Nation and Consider the Lobster. I’m aware that other cities have banned foie gras for ethical reasons. I realize that gavage is not all the fun you can have with your feathers on for the ducks. But I do not like violence or destruction or waste, which is what vandalizing a restaurant in protest of one dish on their extensive menu is. Restaurants are tough businesses to keep afloat, and repeated  vandalizations don’t help the bottom line. Foie gras protestors, vote with your wallet, protest outside the building and start a petition to outlaw foie in Maryland. Just keep it legal. You’re winning more foes than friends. How many people eat foie per year anyway? Wouldn’t it be more effective to lobby against unethically raised cows or chicken?

Arguably my aforementioned distate for violence and destruction and waste could be targeted towards the people who turn living, breathing duckies into meat butter. But because of the methods employed, my sympathies lie with the restauranteurs who seem rational and professional in comparison to the childish antics of the protestors. Quoth Steve Wecker, a co-owner of IBWC: “You can be an activist. You don’t have to be an anarchist or an idiot.”

Word, Steve. I’ll see you in a few weeks.  I’m going to eat so much foie that my liver will become deliciously engorged with fat and you’ll want to serve me with toast points and truffle butter.

C is for Cinghiale

During the past few days, winter has been in its death throes, the last few gasps before spring is born. In these trying times, Cinghiale was a nice place to be. It began from the moment when the complimentary valet whisked my car away from the corner of Lancaster and Exeter as I sprinted through the cold air into the velvety embrace of the enoteca (an Italian word for wine bar, or something like that).

While Cinghale in the less formal sister of Very Important Restaurant Charleston, it is still quite elegant. The decor has much marble and mirrors and many metal table tops, but remains cozy and inviting. Guests facing the bar can contemplate the antique mirrors and dark shelves filled with bottles of vino; those facing the windows can take in the sight of the sun slipping down past the Inner Harbor skyline through the picture windows. Both options are lovely, as are many of the wines. Impecunious me and my friends visited on a Tuesday night, when all of Cinghiale’s bottles are half prince. Let me repeat: HALF PRICE. This meant we could drink twice as much, or according to one party’s calculations pay half as much, but that would have been far less fun.

I can’t really comment on the food — we ordered only  a Lilliputian cheese plate. Our very nice and informative waiter had a slight tendency to hover. It was as if he’d never seen a gaggle of women who wanted to yak over much wine and little food before.  The sommelier, a lovely young woman, found a nicer balance between attention and smothering. She also steered us towards a fine Bolgheri that was a smidge out of our price range but well worth it.

Both the space and the patrons were well-heeled, and more racially diverse than many spots I’ve seen around Baltimore. I would certainly return for Cinghiale, to curl up in one of the posh banquettes or at the elegant bar, and give the food a more thorough examination. Don’t let the oddly terrifying Web site with weird superhero waiters who shoot pasta out of the palms of their hands and wear trendy sneakers deter you. Cinghiale added an unexpected touch of warmth to my Tuesday evening.

C is NOT for Carlyle Club, Charlotte’s, Coburn’s

According to Dining@Large, the Carlyle Club on University Parkway and its sister restaurant Spices in The Colonnade have been shuttered. (Both are supposed to reopen — Spices under a different name — but in the Economic End Times, I’ll believe it when I see it.) I’m sad because both these places figured prominently in my birthday 2007. My dad’s birthday is just a few days away from mine, so we usually do a big family dinner out. At Spices, my mom had a very strong drink, I had two very strong drinks and my dad had very strong three drinks. My dad was pleasantly and hilariously buzzed throughout the meal at Carlyle Club while my mom acted like a put-upon sitcom wife the whole time. They were pissed and pissy, respectively. It was like having dinner with Karen Walker and Deborah Barone.

According to Midnight Sun, Charlotte’s in Federal Hill is a) defunct and b) changing hands. Way behind on that one — how can all these wine bars in Fed Hill go haywire? The Vine, Junior’s, Charlotte’s? Yuppies love them some wine on weeknights! It allows them to believe they are more removed from college than they actually are. And some of the deals were phenomenal.

According to my friend Polly who lives in Canton, Coburn’s on the Square has closed. The greatest thing that ever happened to me there is that once I was seating in the picture window in the front and a bar fight (well, bar-adjacent fight) occurred on the sidewalk immediately in front of me. It was sort of like this. And then on the way out, a guy I knew walked into a parking sign. So I will miss Coburn’s not for its beer or its horrible crowding, but for the slapsticky sidewalk hijinks.