by SBJ Gourmet
I didnâ€™t happen to notice the sign that indicates 51 percent of the proceeds come from bar tabs, but I soon realized that Block 7 Wine CompanyÂ is primarily a watering hole.
First, thereâ€™s the name. Also, the glassed-in wine store tucked away in a corner of the dining room and a sprawling tasting bar where you can sample the wares. And most of the people who visited the Shepherd-near-Washington spot when I did were clutching stemware rather than silverware.
But Block 7â€™s casual-to-classy fare is far from simple bar grub, and way better than it needs to be. With food this good and wine prices this considerate (thereâ€™s no mark-up, so theyâ€™re what you would pay retail), thereâ€™s as much in this year-old wine bar for foodies to savor as there is for oenophiles.
The salty, low-priced starters labeled â€śsnacksâ€ť seem designed to sharpen patronsâ€™ thirst. That was definitely the effect of the hot pretzel from Houstonâ€™s own Slow Dough Bakery. The herbed honey mustard on the side packed a startlingly strong punch (think pungent English mustard) and begged for a cooling chaser from the eclectic lineup of brewskis.
There are no-moreÂ substantialÂ starters on the menu, so I created my own by splitting salads, side dishes and light entrees with my dinner companions, and each was a winner.
The roasted beet salad featured chunks of both red and yellow variety, plus a little salad studded with crumbled Spanish blue cheese and well moistened with toasted-walnut vinaigrette (for my taste, too many restaurants apply salad dressing with an atomizer). Easier to share was the “whole-pig” flatbread, a super-thin crust topped with nuggets of house-made Italian-sausage, San Daniele prosciutto and smoked bacon, plus some arugula leaves and wisps of basil. The pizza-like creation emerges from the oven bubbly, cracker-crisp and quite addictive. But I was most impressed by the wild-mushroom risotto. Well stocked with earthy ‘shrooms and as creamy and al dente as one could wish, my exemplary serving would have done credit to any Italian eatery in town.
Primed by the whole pig flatbread, I had to order pork tenderloin smoked over cherry wood. The multiple slices of Berkshire pork were a tad dry, but the silky dressing on the “German-style” red potato salad provided plenty of balancing moisture and the refreshingly nonstandard “cold” slaw had a nice slurpÂ quotient, too.
For Miguelito’s papperedelle, the lone pasts entree on Block 7′s menu, Chef Miguel Hernandez shifted his focus from Germany to Italy. Here, house-made noodles are tossed in a light herb-butter sauce with crisp bits of bacon-y pancetta, little logs of asparagus bits were all stalks (I wondered what the kitchen did with all the heads) and the shrimp were small-ish rather than the advertised jumbo but surpassingly sweet and succulent all the same.
Not to be confused with Table 7, a very different eatery a block away on Durham, Block 7 is fancy enough to serve items like dry-aged prime steak, sautĂ© things in duck fat and make its own charcuterie. So why was the croque monsieur dropped from the menu? Whatever the reason, the classic French ham, cheese and bĂ©chamel sauce sandwich is gone, replaced by a grilled cheese on sourdough sparked with aged white cheddar and thin slices of Granny Smith apple. It was yummy, but I still want to eat Block 7â€™s croquet monsieur made with raclette, the melty cheese which, served with boiled potatoes, sweet pickles and pickled onions, is a post-slalom staple at Swiss ski resorts.
I had no complaints about the other sandwiches I sampled, though. The venison â€śSloppy Giuseppeâ€ť was a sloppy Joe Italianized by a few rings of sweet-hot Italian peppers. Served on a sturdy onion challah bun, it was made with wild boar confit as well as (of course) venison and rendered less sloppy than usual by a much-reduced tomato sauce that coated and infused the ground meat rather than sluiced it. The Block 7 Burger is a plump, cooked-to-order patty of dry-aged beef tucked into a Slow Dough Bakery bun along with some gruyere cheese in lieu of cheddar or â€śAmerican,â€ť arugula rather than prosaic iceberg, smoked bacon â€śrelishâ€ť instead of bacon slices and a smear of â€śdijonoli,â€ť a house-made blend of aioli and Dijon mustard. Plain aioli also comes with optional fries (you can choose potato or sweet potato, both of them very good), and it is definitely plain. With little of the garlic flavor that defines this classic French sauce, it is nearly as mild as jar mayo.
Block 7 â€śkrackâ€ť is a deluxe variation on Rice Krispies Treats that adds brown butter, a seam of chocolate ganache and a dose of passion fruit caramel to the childhood fave. An even richer meal-ender, though, is the croissant bread pudding with caramelized apples and dulce de leche. It was easily one of the best bread puddings Iâ€™ve had in ages.