Aquarelle's Wine Bar

We expected great food, but the big surprise was the skillfully selected list of wines by the glass

Aquarelle's Wine Bar

606 Rio Grande, 479-8117
Tuesday-Saturday, 5-11pm

We had a show to catch at 9:30pm and were trying to conjure a quick place for great food. We wanted good wine, as well. We settled on Aquarelle's new wine bar. They've converted the south side of the house into a roomy, stylish space with comfortable chairs and a peaceful, soothing atmosphere. Being Aquarelle, we knew the tapas-sized cuisine would be brilliant, and we knew we'd be able to manage our time down to the second by ordering the small courses one or two at a time.

The food was fully up to the standards of the house. We started with a single new potato, scooped, mashed, and reassembled with savory whipped cream and black truffle oil. It was a tiny miracle of succinct power and just $5.

Next up was the Charcuterie Plate ($8), which came with decadently rich croutons that demonstrate Aquarelle's attention to the tiniest details. The plate featured three meats: a light, flavorful chicken-liver mousse; delicately spiced pork-shoulder meat; and sweetly aromatic rabbit meat with a hint of pork fat.

Aquarelle serves some of the finest vegetarian cuisine in town. Their vegan Cucumber Cannoli ($7) is a perfect example, a showpiece of canny construction, fresh flavors, and elegant appearance. Despite the name, this is not a fried pastry. Instead, they use thinly shaved cucumber to make a wrap for raw or lightly cooked vegetables like beets and carrots. The result is a scrumptious dish even carnivores would love.

We expected great food, but the big surprise was the skillfully selected list of wines by the glass. More than 50 wines are available, most between $8 and $15 a glass. François Montand Brut ($8) is one of the world's great bargains, a Champagne in everything but name. The Spanish Basque wine Txakoli Xarmant ($10) is so obscure, it would stump a master sommelier, but its tangy acids and low alcohol make for a great quaffer. Red-wine lovers should try the dense and peppery Saint Cosme Cotes-du-Rhone ($10). One small ding: The Friday night we were there, several of the wines had been opened the day before. I understand the need to use resources carefully, but wine is food, and it spoils. Aquarelle isn't alone in this practice; almost everyone does it. I just expect more from them.

To top everything off, the service was a perfect blend of friendliness and professionalism. Aquarelle had everything we wanted – a tasty meal and fun wines in an elegant atmosphere – and we were at the show by 9:15pm.

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