Along with poke bowls, cold brew coffee, and mezcal, one of the most significant food trends to come down the pike as of late is the chef-driven wine bar. Forget cheese, crackers, and charcuterie, these establishments are significantly changing what it means to wine and dine, and the new Joséphine Wine Bar is no exception.
Formerly the home of low-key, lima bean nirvana joint Ernie’s, 64 Spring St. has been utterly transformed inside and out. The once-humble space is modern, but welcoming, with parquet floors, a large marble bar, and a wine bottle-covered wall presumably adorned with the good stuff.
While wine is the angle, the menu stands on its own, with an array of thoughtful small plates from chef Shaun Connolly, formerly of Chicago-based Moto, Nightwood, and Takashi.
Starters are cheese-heavy, with the Buffalo milk burrata ($15) leading the charge. The cream-infused mozzarella is served cool and tastes like decadence, exactly what you expect from burrata. Served with a chunk of sliced baguette and plated with a plentiful portion of pickled cherries, a whisper of honeycomb, and a sprinkle of sea salt, this is likely to charm the pants off anyone who is prone to being tempted into nudity by the mention of ooey, gooey cheese.
Similarly, the Turkish brown figs ($10) are worth every pricey mouthful. Made with three, fresh, local black figs, the dish is beautifully balanced. The not-too-sweet, plump figs are filled with a tangy Clemson blue cheese mousse and sprinkled with crushed, toasted almonds. Sour, salty, sweet … the gang’s all here.
The fromage de vache ($14) was touted by the amicable, attentive waitress as a taste of late summer, and that is a crying shame. But only because the obvious implication is that soon it will no longer be late summer. Alas, while you can, get your taste buds down to Joséphine to savor the magic that is perfectly roasted beets, gloriously ripe peaches, and unexpectedly clever pickled blueberries having their way with buttery, fresh cheese and a tart, crunchy pistachio vinaigrette. I don’t mean to start any trouble, but is Chef Connolly married?
Joséphine offers 11 cocktails, eight beers, and 20 wines by the glass, not to mention three non-alcoholic bespoke sodas. In keeping with the clear Parisian leanings, the by-the-glass and bottle options skew predominantly French, with a few “Rest of the world” varietals in the mix. Notably, there’s an agreeable ‘vin du maison’ of every flavor — sparkling, white, rose and red — available at an affordable price, $7 per glass.
Pinch your pennies where you can, as Joséphine is anything but a budget destination.
Case in point, the curry-roasted butterkin squash ($11) is a beautiful dish of Lilliputian portions. Here, three slices of roasted pumpkin serve as a vehicle for tart goat milk feta, crunchy pumpkin seeds, and some seriously fiery red Fresno chili pepper slices. Plated on a garlicky, chunky coconut pesto, this is somehow just not as balanced as the other dishes. On that note, it’s perhaps more accurate to say, “It’s a little bit less spectacular than its siblings, which still renders it wow.”
That said, the crispy baked polenta ($14) is a thing of wonder, if not miniaturism. This is polenta!? Smooth as silk, it’s topped with a garlic-forward wild mushroom ragout. Due to my inherent resistance to the flavor of burned garlic, the sauce itself didn’t work for me. My dining companion, on the other hand, found that to be the most compelling part. In short, come for the otherworldly polenta, and do you with the mushroom ragout.
Last, but absolutely not least, the ricotta cavatelli ($16), is a beautifully comforting dish. Seemingly subscribing to The Parisian Diet, this is no doubt a fair demonstration of how much we’re supposed to eat. However, by American standards, the extremely conservative serving of homey, milk-braised pork sugo and toothy pasta becomes a near slap in the face: IS THAT ALL!? In other words, it’s so good you’ll want to eat yourself silly, but thankfully(?) it will take several orders to achieve full self-hate.
A beautiful, convivial space boasting equally welcoming food and drink menus, there’s not much not to love about Joséphine Wine Bar. That stated, if you’re tight on funds or big on appetite, plan to either snack heavily beforehand or loosen that wallet. It’s worth it.