wine

No-Holds-Bari

Bari Ristorante e Enoteca celebrated its 12th anniversary with a seafood-filled four-course dinner and wine pairing this past Veterans Day. The sold-out event, hosted by owners Jason and Rebecca Severs, delighted restaurant regulars and newbies (like myself) with an expertly-curated Mediterranean meal.

Located in Overton Square, Bari could be considered a fixture given its decade-long tenure in the revived arts, dining, and entertainment district. Typically known for skillfully crafted cocktails (Hey, Brad Pitts!) and artisanal cheese plates, Bari also offers noteworthy wines and high-brow fare.

The vino selection was moderated by Tiffany Werne of Frederick Wildman & Sons. Tiffany prefaced each course with a botanical and geographic description of authentically Italian wines. “Tonight is about giving and rewarding experiences…these types of dinners expose people to new things they won’t always get,” Tiffany said. “You end up learning about a new recipe and are able to be at eclectic and fun places.”

Her favorite pick? The pairing of the Le Ragose Amarone, Veneto with the pan-roasted barramundi and monkfish. A 1,200-foot elevated Ragose vineyard produced this bold, yet supple, red wine that complemented the pescetarian dish due to the owners’ “out-of-the-box thinking,” Tiffany said.

“They served red wine with two fish courses,” said Lee Eilbott, an event guest. “I was pleasantly surprised. I got to experience and taste things that you would never order on a menu,” she added.

The evening ended three hours later when Chef Jason Severs and his wife and co-owner Rebecca thanked the attendees for their support of the restaurant over the last several years. “I love it when the restaurant is full,” Rebecca said. “We host these dinners about twice a year. It’s always nice for others to get what you’re doing.”

While this was a special occasion, several items including the wines can be ordered on your next visit. But if you have a penchant for the connoisseur’s tour, be on the lookout for future wine dinners at Bari. This one cost $75 and was certainly worth it for the quality of rare ingredients, impeccably paired wine, and the familial ambience.

Special thanks to Lauren Edmonds for the food photography and Lisa A. and Catherine H. for this spontaneous house-warming gift.

Night-trippin’ to Tunica…for Steak!

Jack Binion’s steakhouse held its grand opening July 16 at Horseshoe Casino in Tunica, Miss. The addition is part of a multi-million dollar renovation by Caesars Entertainment to make Horseshoe a destination for the region and (of course), to attract gamblers old and new. I was invited to attend a media preview for the occasion. Here’s my review:

Atmosphere: I’ll admit that when I first heard of a Tunica steakhouse, I had visions of peanuts, rawhide, and Texas hold ’em. It couldn’t be further from the truth. While the restaurant is located on the whistling casino floor, one quickly feels transported to a wine bar in downtown SoHo. There’s “floor seating” for those who like to watch gamblers wince as they shoot craps, and then there’s the bar that’s downright classy. They didn’t just mask old trappings. They gutted the place and pulled out all the stops to create a relaxing and sophisticated experience.

The wine was fresh. “Barrel-fresh!” I ordered and stayed with the Mark West Pinot Noir. It was silky smooth and a few degrees below room temperature (Exactly how reds should be served!) Binion’s is the first establishment in the state of Mississippi to offer a selection of wines straight from the aging barrel. The distributor places the wine in kegs and so you drink straight from the tap, which keeps the wine fresher longer. Bacchus would be thrilled.

The menu offers hefty seafood and steak options, yet its tapas are diverse and intricately assembled. For example, the smoked duck with blackberries and three-onion marmalade (photo below) boasted a sweet and savory finish to warm up the palate.

The executive chef, Bruce Ford, spent months writing Jack Binion’s menu. Chef Ford, a coastal native from Savannah, has injected flair into the steakhouse that he hopes will strongly appeal to women. “A steakhouse is typically male dominated. I’ve added lighter food options primarily for women. They’re still flavorful and nice, and they can feel comfortable ordering,” Ford said.

And to prove his commitment to going against the grain of a traditional steakhouse, Ford told us that an adjacent party included a vegan. Now that’s a new joke to tell! ‘So a vegan walks into a steakhouse…’ (Post punchlines below.)

Did the chef cop out and safely serve a salad? No, he got creative and empathetic. “They usually only get served steamed vegetables. They still want to taste food,” Ford said. The result? Sautéed mushrooms and leeks inside of a roasted heirloom, Ripley tomato. Improv cooking on an opening night.

For the main course, I chose the filet mignon that was butterflied to medium-well. I’ve never gone wrong with this cut of steak. And it was a satisfying choice. The corn pudding was my favorite side, which is like eating a sweet cornbread casserole. I wasn’t a fan of the creamed spinach because of its soupy, soft texture. (I suppose I prefer it a bit more firm.)

Now for dessert. I have a massive sweet tooth and Chef Bruce told our table that dessert was not optional but mandatory. Bless him. Like good Southern citizens, we ordered four and shared. The key lime pie, chocolate torte, bread pudding, and the crème brûlée taster. Thank God the others weren’t as interested in the brûlées because I devoured every spoonful (photo below). Each flavor – coconut, chocolate, mocha, and saffron – was congealed and slightly torched to perfection. Whatever saffron is, I’m a believer.

The prices for steak entrees begin in the $40 range. One could get by with two drinks and a couple of appetizers for $50, but if you’re trekking from the Bluff City, you might as well be a Grizzly. In my opinion, Jack Binion’s attention to detail, charming service, diverse offerings, and fresh quality put it on par with other “special-occasion” restaurants. Thus, I wasn’t surprised by the cost to dine.

Whether or not you’re feeling lucky enough for Blackjack, give the new Binion’s a whirl.

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P.S. Here are more Jack Binion’s reviews from others who attended the preview: