Jeff Smith 4 p.m., Feb. 26
Voyou Wine Bar
Perched on the corner of 5th and Pennsylvania in Hillcrest, Voyou sits on a block densely populated with good restaurants, though it holds its own in terms of cuisine and ambiance.
The restaurant has a lot of European style in its modern decor. Sitting on the low, squared-off couches that serve as tables, I soaked up the downtempo music and the late afternoon sunlight that poured in across the patio and flooded the interior of the dining room with long shadows. It felt like there was only space for thirty diners, but the coziness of setting served the casual atmosphere well.
The wine list isn't particularly long, for a wine bar, but the selections have been calculated to run the gamut of modern viticulture's offerings. I found plenty of delightful glasses of wine (red, white, and bubbly) for under ten dollars and the 4-6PM happy hour knocked an additional two dollars off the price of wine by the glass. There's a full bar for cocktails and a selection of beers as well, but the business is run by a Frenchman and it's worthwhile to trust his cultural affinity for wine drinking!
Much of the food was served in small-or medium-sized portions that were ideal for sharing between wine drinkers. Prices ran the gamut from $5 baskets of fries to an $18 order of pot roast, which seemed to be the only substantial, full meal on the menu, the rest being smaller plates, flatbreads, salads, and small hors d'oeuvres.
A caprese salad erred on the side of cheese and, though modestly sized, was largely fresh mozzerella. Cherry tomatoes, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar rounded out the dish, but the emphasis was clearly on eating plenty of cheese.
An order or escargot "lollipops" increased the Francophile value of the menu by a significant factor. The snails had been wrapped in phyllo dough and served at the end of long skewers accompanied by a generous sauce of butter, shallots, and fines herbes. True to form, the escargots ultimately constituted an excuse to consume lots of rich sauce with a chewy bite of snail thrown in to make things interesting. Not having to pry the molluscs from their shells with the aid of a miniature fork was a nice touch.
A goat cheese and almond tart had a much bigger "stinky cheese" kick than expected. The little disc of puff pastry had been filled with the aforementioned fromage and some baked pear and almond compound. Served with a syrupy reduction of balsamic vinegar, it played nicely with the tart, white wines that populated the menu.
A more substantial dish of macaroni and cheese was based around penne pasta and bechamel sauce that had been baked in a teardrop-shaped dish. What tasted like a gruyere or other semi-hard cheese had been liberally sprinkled on top and then allowed to broil to a deep, golden crust.
With its shareable menu, accessibly wine list, and pleasant atmosphere, Voyou Wine Bar was ideally suited to a convivial party without any serious appetites and no pressing deadlines. As a more whimsical alternative to the Tractor Room or RGang, Voyou was a perfect happy hour destination for a light meal.
3696 5th Avenue
Open Monday through Saturday at 4
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