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Friday, April 7, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Restaurant Review

Drink in the scene at three local wine bars

Seattle Times restaurant critic

On the air

Nancy Leson talked about Washington restaurants, with a panel of other restaurant critics, on KUOW's Weekday program Thursday.

More wine bars


These three not in your stomping grounds? You might try:

Crepe Cafe and Wine Bar, 2118 N.E. 65th St., Seattle; 206-527-7147.

The Met Coffee & Wine Bar, 232-C Burnett Ave. S., Renton; 425-687-7989 or www.themetwinebar.com.

Olives Caf and Wine Bar, 107 Fifth Ave., No. 103, Edmonds; 425-771-5757 or www.olivescafewinebar.com.

Piazza's Wine Bar, 11700 Mukilteo Speedway, No. 405, Mukilteo; 425-493-1286.

Purple Caf & Wine Bar, 14459 Woodinville-Redmond Road, Woodinville, 425-483-7129, and 323 Park Place, Kirkland, 425-828-3772; www.thepurplecafe.com. A Seattle location is coming soon: 1225 Fourth Ave.

Red House Beer & Wine, 410 Burnett Ave. S., Renton, 425-226-2666; www.redhousebeerandwine.com

Smash Wine Bar & Bistro, 1401 N. 45th St., Seattle, 206-547-3232; www.smashwine.com

The Veronica, 228 W. North Bend Way, North Bend, 425-996-3270; www.veronicawine.com

Vino Vino (at DeNunzio's), 102 Cherry St., Seattle; 206-343-9517.

We're seeing a crush of new wine bars where you can lift a glass with a nosh. Here's this sipper's take on a trio of happy hot spots, joining a handful of other grape-juice joints (at left) that you may not have tried yet.

Bricco Della Regina Anna

1525 Queen Anne Ave. N., Seattle, 206-285-4900 or www.briccoseattle.com; 4 p.m.-1 a.m. daily.

At Bricco, two former U-Dub frat brothers are running a 32-seat wine bar built with their own hands as a Seattle-styled answer to an Italian enoteca. Owner/chef Kevin Erickson and wine director Jason Crume opened this bustling boîte in January. It's been a hit ever since, a magnet for Queen Anne neighbors and a destination for wine lovers thrilled to find a careful selection of boutique wines with an emphasis on Italian and Northwest labels, many at $35 and under.

Here, children are welcome and offered PB&J panini ($3). Couples sit in the storefront window nibbling bruschetta ($3 each) and sipping bubbles from Italy, France and New Mexico. And friends share dinner specials at tiny tables fronting a windowed wine cellar: vegetarian lasagna ($11), or a roasted sage-marinated pork chop ($13) with a side of grilled asparagus ($7). It's easy to be seduced by an astounding array of cheeses and meats sold by the ounce-size servings (two for $9, three at $13, four for $16 and five, $19).

I communed with a superb smoked trout and scarlet beet salad drizzled with crème fraîche ($11), paired with a French-oak-barrel-fermented 2004 semillon from Seattle's own Wilridge Winery ($9). The wine stood up surprisingly well to the salad's forthright flavors, as would a glass of Kana 2002 "Dark Star" — an oomphy blend from a notable young Yakima winery ($11).

With such fine-dining flourishes as lovely stemware, linen napkins and astute servers, I have the highest hopes for this hilltop charmer.

Portalis Wine Shop & Wine Bar

5205 Ballard Ave. N.W.; 206-783-2007 or www.portaliswines.com; 4-11 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 4 p.m.-midnight Fridays, noon-midnight Saturdays and noon-10 p.m. Sundays (happy hour 4-7 weekdays).

Early this year, Ballard's 3-year-old Portalis spilled down the block to a larger location, the better to accommodate a wider world of wines — and more of us who drink them.

The new digs resemble the old, with an inviting rusticity that makes you want to kick back and hang out. It's still a skinny little space with brick walls. But the wine racks now display many more labels, the bar seats 14 and tables are set in an intimate dining area where a group of singles gathered recently to meet and greet.

Tending to them was owner Jens Strecker, who runs the place with his wife, Julie Howe. Meanwhile, I sat at the bar, sipping $2.75 "tastes" (one-ounce pours) from among the list of 30 reds, whites and sparklers available by the glass ($7.50-$11) or bottle ($26-$40).

My world tour included an Isabel 2002 pinot noir from Marlborough, New Zealand; a Neil Ellis 2002 pinotage from Stellenbosch, South Africa; and a 2003 Chateau Saint-Andre Corbin Bordeaux from St.Georges-St.Emilion. I favored the deep cherry notes of the New Zealand pinot, but would be loath to spit any of them out at a wine-tasting, Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. (timed to coincide with the Ballard Sunday farmer's market).

Perusing the retail goods, I could have as easily chosen one of 650 wines, paid corkage ($11) and plopped myself down at that "singles" table to share it. Instead I sat at the bar, ordered a cheese plate ($8.50) and remembered: I'm married.

Charcuterie is a bargain at $8.50 for a generous portion of house pâté, prosciutto, coppa and olives. But I'd skip the goat cheese gratin ($7.25), a tomato-sauced concoction that cried out for pappardelle, not the bread rounds served for spreading. For dessert? Something from the "truffle bar," courtesy of Ballard's own Zen Boy Chocolates — perhaps paired with one of the many dessert wines available by the glass.

Vintage Lounge (at Daniel's Broiler, Bellevue)

10500 N.E. Eighth St., Bellevue; 425-462-4662 or www.schwartzbros.com; 4 p.m.-1 a.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 4 p.m.-1:30 a.m. Fridays-Saturdays and 4 p.m.-midnight Sundays.

The bright lights of Bellevue got brighter for this wine drinker when I showed up on the 21st floor of Bellevue Place, dressed to swill at Daniel's Broiler's Vintage Lounge. "May we sit in your new wine bar?" I asked the hostess to the obvious delight of the wine director standing at her elbow. He led me and my friend past the crush in the cocktail lounge, into the inner-sanctum of what, only weeks before, was the steakhouse's cigar room.

Stamped out by state regulation, that stately smoker's den has been re-imagined as a wealthy wine wonk's wonderland whose star attraction is not its view, its HDTV or its American sturgeon caviar ($89.95). It's a 30-spout custom-built Cruvinet showcasing by-the-glass wines like the carefully allocated Leonetti Cellars 2002 cabernet sauvignon, sold out (at $36.50 a glass!) within days of the lounge's debut.

The Cruvinet's modern technology keeps uncorked wine lively and lush for as long as six weeks, allowing corks to be popped on a bevy of $100-plus bottles. Wine director Cory Strobaugh is eager to show off his new toy to anyone who's interested. He explained that each of his special selections were rated 90 or higher by the nation's wine press, and graciously offered a complimentary taste of one of his treasures — a 2002 cabernet sauvignon from Napa Valley's Darioush Winery.

We were tended to by a waiter whose knowledge of his wines was welcome as we perused the well-annotated list of by-the-glass grape. These ranged from a Ferrari-Carano 2004 fume blanc ($16.50) to a Spottswoode Winery 2001 cabernet sauvignon ($39.50). Jaw-droppers take note: The lounge also offers far less precious pours, including a $6 Woodbridge white zinfandel and an $8 Castle Rock pinot noir.

We went for the local stuff, lifting our varietal-appropriate Riedel stemware to sip DeLille Cellars "Chaleur Estate" 2002 ($31.50/glass), a meritage that, as the menu promised, "lingered against chewy tannins on the finish." And a 2001 Col Solare ($36.50), a blended red made by Chateau Ste. Michelle and Italian winemaker Marchese Piero Antinori, appropriately described by our waiter as "Washington's answer to the super-Tuscan."

What to eat? Daniel's full menu is available, augmenting the lounge's brief appetizer list. Available after 4 p.m. only, it offers bar favorites like fried calamari ($10.95) and fussy foods like foie gras ($19.95). I have only high praise for a chilled shellfish sampler of sweet gulf prawns, Dungeness crab legs and two big lobster claws ($25.95). "Oh! You can't eat that seafood without Champagne!" said our wine director, rushing over to remedy the situation. Right he was.

Nancy Leson: 206-464-8838 or taste@seattletimes.com. More reviews at www.seattletimes.com/restaurants.

Information in this article, originally published April 7, 2006, was corrected April 19. The phone number for the wine bar Bricco Della Regina Anna is 206-285-4900. In a previous version of this story, the number for Bricco, located at 1525 Queen Anne Ave. N., Seattle, was incorrect.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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