Walter Mencken 4 p.m., May 3
Normal Heights: Chicken, wine, custody battles
At Proprietor’s Reserve, Ed finds wine, HH deals and a warning: Don't bring your ex. It's too small for hissy negotiations
No, not talking about me. Carla and I are fine. And when she has an issue, an entire school cafeteria would hear it anyways.
Actually, I was heading for that classy French joint, Bleu Bohème, in Kensington on Carla's recommendation. She and her buddy Eva had been there. Raved about it. The trouble? I got there at 6:01 p.m.
“Sorry,” says the gal. “Happy hour’s over.”
Wow. Turns out happy hour means like one happy hour. Five to six.
So back on the street, where next? Place a few doors along, Ponce’s Mexican Restaurant, same deal. Six o’clock clang! Happiness shuts down.
So I head west on Adams over the canyon that’s the 15 freeway, enter into the Republic of Normal Heights. Get to 34th and Rosie O’Grady’s.
Oh yeah. I remember. Right behind Rosie’s…yes! The tiniest wine bar you ever did see. And talk about good wine needs no bush (like the ancient English saying), the place doesn’t even look open. Shades drawn down the window against the setting sun.
But in the window, a sign.
This is Proprietor's Reserve Wine Bar, 4711 34th Street (near Adams Avenue, behind Rosie O'Grady's Irish pub), Normal Heights (619-283-7449). Inside, two people and a guy behind the tiny granite-top counter backed by a wall of wine.
D’aagh, yes I remember coming here before. Must have been good. I can’t remember a thing.
But what I do remember is how, straight up, people start talking to you. I take a seat at the bar. Lori on the right is just ordering a bottle of "Flora Springs Napa Valley Merlot."
I guess it’s too small not to. Count half a dozen seats at the counter, maybe a dozen more at tables, and around the beautiful old brick walls.
“Till seven,” says Rudy the bar guy.
Phew. Breathing room.
He shows me the menu. Oh yes. You can get anything from burgers to fish to steaks. From Luz’s Kitchen which kinda straddles this and Rosie’s. But Rudy turns the multi-page menu, mainly filled with wines, till he gets to “Daily Specials + Appetizer Treats.”
“This is our happy hour stuff,” he says.
Huh. Goes from $5 to $10. From “sweet potato fries dusted with powdered sugar" ($5) and cheese boards like “blue cheese sampler.” ($5) to sautéed mushrooms with French bread ($7) to “filet mignon toasts with horseradish cream” ($10).
Wow. That last one sounds delicious. Only one thing: I’m hongry. I mention this to Rudy.
“How about the first one?” he says.
He points to “chicken marsala medallions toastettes.”
“Probably more meat,” he says. He’s opening Lori’s bottle of Merlot and pouring it into a beautiful cone-shaped glass container that sits on a little circle of metal. Then he pours that from a great height into her wine glass.
So I say yes to the chicken, and ask him to find me a cheap red wine that would go with them. Don’t feel like white.
“You could have some of mine,” says Lori.
“Really? Only if I pay for it,” I say and haul out two Lincolns so there’s no argument.
And ooh. Fruity, luscious, a slight edge.
Casey, who’s sitting on my left says this Napa Merlot’s unusual. “Merlots are usually one-dimensional,” he says. “But this is fruity and peppery. A delight to find.”
“Yes,” says Rudy. “I’d say black fruit and spice.”
I look at Lori with a little bit of awe. This lady knows her Merlots.
Ten minutes later, Luz and her husband Victor...
...appear with Lori’s shrimp chile relleno plate ($12) and my chicken marsala ($8).
She takes a photo of it with her iPhone5. Dang. Better than my li'l ol' pocket Nikon. Turns out she's a professional photographer.
Mine is basically four chunks of chicken breast with five slices of baked baguette. The chicken lumps are covered in a winey gravy loaded with mushroom slices.
It is dee-lish, and really really filling. I’m surprised. I’da thought four mouthfuls and that’d be it. They’re tender but thick. And yes. The Merlot helps a lot.
Casey says people fight over this place.
“It’s a little family here,” he says. “But new people become instant members. We love it.”
“This place comes up in divorce custody battles, along with kids and the car. It’s like ‘I get visiting rights to the wine bar, okay?'”
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