That creaking and rustling noise you just heard is the sound of us going out on a limb. Actually, we don't think it's going very far out to say that Home Wine Kitchen is going to be the next hot table in town. This small spot in downtown Maplewood, a long, narrow room that seats about 40, including stools at tables in the window, and owned by Joshua Renbarger and Cassandra Vires, is rocking on the plates. And it's already quite busy; we can't imagine coming without making a reservation, or at least calling ahead.
The food is New American, with lots of local ingredients, and Vires, the chef, clearly knows her way around a stove, changing the menu weekly. She also has "no-menu Monday," when she cooks a three-course meal after consultation with the diner. Renbarger, who's worked in the wine industry, provides a good-sized, one-price list -- $8 for a glass, $30 for a bottle; there's also a short reserve list. A sparkling French rose from Chateau Renni was light and dry, with overtones of fresh, perfectly ripe strawberries. It made for a perfect aperitif.
The focus on local and on wine brought us a white gazpacho made with Vignole grapes, cucumber, Marcona almonds and a little dill. Tart, cool, slightly mysterious even though the ingredients are on the menu, it was a new taste for us, and we were charmed. Lamb tartare ? Why not? Seasoned with some minced anchovy, and served in a patty garnished with a slice of truffle, a sunny-side-up quail's egg and a few micro-greens, the combination was excellent and its superb, delicate flavors made the house-made croutons superfluous.
It is probably Freudian that in our notes from dinner, we wrote “prrrk loin.” It truly did make one purr. Wrapped in bacon and tasting of smoke and black pepper, the two chunks of meat were slightly salty, rich but not overwhelming, and addictive. Alongside came roasted Brussels sprouts (cheers from Joe), seared edges showing here and there, and pieces of fresh fig cooked in the pan juices, both elegant companions to the succulent pork. Duck confit consisted of a quarter of a duck so tender and succulent we joked about pulled duck. Sauced with a drizzle of a light, tart sauce from more Vignoles grapes that provided a mouth-tingling contrast with the fowl, the dish also had halved fingerling potatoes, oven-roasted (we suspect more duck fat) to wonderful crispness. As good as the potatoes and sprouts were, vegetable honors went to a side order of fava beans. We don't see them often around here; they're a lot of work to shell and peel. Vires cooked them with bacon and garlic to a nice tenderness, keeping their shape, but just barely. Utterly delicious.
Don't fail to save room for dessert. We were hesitant about the chocolate pudding cake. Was this another name for the molten chocolate cake so boring that some places are changing its name to entrap the unsuspecting? No, no, this was a slice of a dark chocolate loaf cake, so moist that the cloud of softly whipped cream really wasn't necessary, just delicious. Seriously chocolate-y, and not very sweet, with stripes of salted caramel to be swiped up as desired, the cake should remain on the menu forever.
Coming from a totally different direction as an end to dinner, pickled Muscat grapes, a scoop of goat cheese, a little honey and a small handful of black walnuts arrived with some grilled bread. The grapes, which still had seeds, were a little sour and a little sweet, leading the way for playing around with various combinations of what was on the plate. We thought the best was one that included everything, including the musky taste of the black walnuts, and what they added to the combination of textures. Easy to share, and a nice way to end the evening.
Young servers, but knowledgeable and enthusiastic, and able to make themselves heard over the rising noise level which is probably going to be inevitable in this space. Even the owner/bartender and the owner/chef were bringing food out and bussing tables, it's that informal.
Yes, lunch and Sunday brunch to go along with one of the best dinners we've had in 2011. See the website for more information.
7322 Manchester Rd., Maplewood
Lunch Mon, Wed-Sat., Dinner Wed.-Sun., Brunch Sun.
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Good