Cork Wine Bar, 14UP

I hope our city’s young 14th Street dwellers remember the time when Cork was one of the few good dining options on 14th Street; now, these pioneers have been “joined” by a good dozen other medium-high-end restaurants within walking distance.

What used to be an impossible seat was a piece of cake on Sunday evening. My young dining companion and I walked in at around 6:30, and chose a seat indoors instead of outside on the patio (although it was a beautiful evening, and we could have gone either way).

And we’re glad we did because our server, Cierra, was a hoot and a half – during the course of our meal, she said several genuinely funny things that had us both laughing, even after she walked away. She was great, and a huge asset to the restaurant.

I asked if they had any mocktails, and she said that although there were none on the menu, they could make us one. I asked for a Mocktail ($5) with ginger, and the bartender whipped up something with ginger, perhaps some nutmeg, and a couple other things. It was absolutely delicious, and as refreshing as could be, and I ended up getting a second one later on.

Cierra advised us on 4-6 dishes between us, and we split the difference at 5:

* Avocado ($10) with pistachios, toasted pistachio oil, sea salt, and grilled bread

* Grilled Asparagus ($10) with burrata, olive and red pepper puree, and basil

* Crispy Lemon and Black Pepper Dusted Calamari and Rock Shrimp ($12) with caper remoulade

* Pan-Crisped Brioche Sandwich ($11) of prosciutto, fontina, and sunny-side up egg

* Roasted Eggplant Flatbread ($11) with goat feta, pickled onions, mint, and lemon zest

Note several things:

* Cork keeps it simple, with minimal mixing of the native ingredients

* This menu has barely changed since the restaurant opened in January, 2008

* They bring out each dish when it’s ready (unless you request otherwise)

* Everything we ordered was priced between $10 and $12

Although Cork had two superstar chefs in Ron Tanaka and Rob Weland, current Chef Kristin Hutter – who may or may not have been working on this Sunday evening – is perfectly capable of making these dishes. This restaurant is a formula, and the chef can be – almost – something of an afterthought. These dishes are not difficult to make, and a good line cook could handle them. That said, on nights when the restaurant is screechingly busy, you need a pro in the kitchen to make things happen.

The menu is virtually the same, but the dishes themselves are quite different. It had been far too long since I’d been to Cork, and the difference in the execution was crystal clear. Each chef has their own style, and Khalid and Diane have apparently given the kitchen greater latitude than I would have ever imagined.

Highlights were the fritto misto which was just as good as any rendition I’ve had here, and the sandwich which was perhaps better than any rendition I’ve had here, although the fontina on it was a bit overpowering (if you don’t mind this, you’ll love the sandwich – break the egg just before eating it, spread the yolk evenly on top of the bread, and eat it with a knife and fork).

I was a little disappointed in the burrata sitting in the unpleasant olive and red pepper puree, and surprisingly, in the bruschetta which had an over-concentration of toasted pistachio, and avocados cut and distributed just a bit too clumsily (I’ve had this dish countless times in the past, and this was the weakest version – a more even sprinkling of sea salt will help).

Matt and I were pretty well stuffed, but Cierra – who could talk a leopard into buying spots – urged us to try the Summer Peach and Blueberry Crisp ($8), with vanilla bean ice cream and cardamom caramel, and both of us were *so* glad she did. Cooked peaches can be wonderful, or they can be slightly bitter with acidity, and these were wonderful because the crumble was positively laden with butter which worked beautifully in what turned out to be the highlight of our meal. Served in a very hot iron mini-skillet, the fruits were buried underneath a buttery crumble with brown sugar, the whole thing topped with a dollop of high-quality ice cream. Given the quality of these fruits, the recipe, and the execution, this is one dessert that you should go out of your way to get. And the caramel! Even if you’re a savory person, and tend not to order desserts, consider this a “fruit dish” and just get it – it will be one of the best desserts you have this summer, I promise. This is the one must-order item we had on this evening, and we were clashing forks, each trying to get the last bite.

While I was waiting for the dessert, I ordered an Herbal Tea ($4), and was presented with an elegant wooden box that allowed me to take my pick. Cork uses the French company Palais des Thés for their teas, and I got a sack of Linden Blossom Tilleul with my own little white teapot, short and stout.

Oh, and one other thing:


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