Walter Mencken 10:15 a.m., Dec. 13
First look at Rred Wine Bar
New to Hillcrest, RRed could be a good spot for wine and light noshing if diners can keep the check totals low.
Cafe Delano lasted for almost no time at all before the promising tapas bar shuttered and slipped into limbo. The place looked inactive for a long time until, with little warning, Rred Wine Bar took over at 540 University Avenue in Hillcrest. The new phone number, for any interested parties, is 619-683-9000.
The new restaurant isn’t related to the old, but the tables and chairs are the same curious, rough-hewn numbers used at Delano. We can only surmise that the former restaurant left in a world-class hurry. As far as appearances go, Rred’s big innovation is to use the dining room walls as gallery space. A selection of local artists hang there right now, and the styles run the gamut from whimsical impressionism to hyper-saturated portraits of exotic dancers and gambling paraphernalia. It remains to be seen whether regular art openings and exhibitions will affirm the wine bar’s status as a legit gallery.
Rred’s menu draws heavily from Mediterranean, specifically Greek, cuisine, and that is where the food is at its best. A simple dish of heirloom tomato “steaks” drenched in olive oil ($6) presented like a tutorial in how to serve fresh tomatoes. Not only were the fruits of the finest quality, but the boatload of capers, olives, anchovies, and good feta cheese assured that every bite of tomato was adequately salty.
The food overstepped its own limitations as the price rose, however. The “tuna Napoleon” for $18 tasted at least $5 cheaper than its real price. True, adding walnuts and beets to a tower of Ahi tuna and avocado gave the dish an unexpected earthy crunchiness, but it was hardly distinguished enough to command entree pricing at appetizer performance.
The rest of the menu tours the world of wine bar nibbles, with flatbreads, cheese and meat boards, bruschetta dishes (which include a “puttanesca” version replete with anchovies and capers), and the tantalizing addition of shrimp saganaki (stewed with tomatoes and served with feta). Sticking with the simpler, less-expensive, and more Greek options would be for the best. Rred isn’t a full-on restau, and the menu is more suited to light grazing than substantial eating. It’s easy for Rred to feel overpriced, but cautious tipplers could have a great meal by sticking to the veggies and the wine menu, which is short, lists some better than average wines, and has adequate pricing. Don’t get me wrong, however. In the long run, it’s better to get a decent Chardonnay for $8 instead of a weak example for $6.