David Haskell, the frenetic L.A.-raised sommelier once found at Le Cirque before springing his own Bin 8945 on West Hollywood, opened The Colonial Wine Bar on Melrose two and a half months ago with Mary Anne and Carolyn Reyes of Hollywood's dearly departed Mandalay Restaurant and Pearl Cocktail Lounge. Tonight, Haskell unleashes the ideal instrument to flaunt his canny way with pairing liquid grape and grain to the immaculate ingredients prepared by Colonial chef Ryan Otey. Matching a wide spectrum of wine and beers to specific small plates, Haskell summons the aspects of specific Japanese delicacies from out of Otey's Western recipes, transforming their characters to become something they are clearly not.
Inspired by Japanese cuisine and chef's choice omakase meals, Colonial's new menu offering features items like "unagi," "udon," and "oysters," without a single one of these ingredients in the restaurant. Through Haskell's specific wine and beer selections, the essences of these ingredients are coaxed out of traditionally European arrangements. Tasting the playful, puckish experiments brings a whole new level of interactivity and dare we say fun to learning about wine and beer.
Colonial's "Uni" arrives as plate of deviled eggs with chopped bacon, paprika, and jalapeno, served with an intoxicatingly sweet, almond-tinted Savagnin Dom. de Montbourgeau that Haskell doesn't normally hold in high esteem. But as the diner takes a few bites with a sip or two, a strange transformation takes root. The candied wine rips through the sweet cream of the deviled egg, leaving the salinity of the bacon to hit back with the essence of the sea, the egg yolk in effect playing the part of the pulpy urchin, its white the rice, and the spice giving it all a slight oceanic minerality. The wine's cloying character, in turn, changes to reveal the very distinct taste of caramel apples.
We came by on the restaurant's invite this week to try the new omakase. The flavor-tripping effect is repeated through seven courses with varying degrees of accuracy, the efforts consistently engaging as diners pinpoint their palates to discern the changing course of flavor. "Udon" consists of a flatbread spread with lardo, summer squash, chervil, and shaved tartufo, served aside Batic, an un-sulfured Slovenian red. One might not discern dashi or soy exactly, but might be hit with a warm note of starchiness akin to comforting noodles, a pleasing seep of oil coating their mouths from the lardo, a savory essence of broth whispered from the tartufo and spice on the back palate, with fruity tones suddenly emerging from the squash. Another sip and the red wine rings clearly of peaches.
Burrata, served with heirloom tomatoes and balsamic, plays the part of "oysters," sliding creamily down the back of the throat with a sparkle let loose from a glass of Hitachino White. The sweet and smoky profile of "unagi" resounds through a plate of rich bone marrow, slathered on crostini with oxtail ragu aside a pour of Sauvete Touraine Meli-Melo.
The menu casts the sommelier as not only a wine expert, but gives him the vital role of a chef, best exemplified when Haskell pairs duck confit and duck crackling with a Belgian beer and buttermilk biscuit to remind diners of melty, rich "wagyu," only to bring out a glass of blueberry-shaded 2010 Les Amis de la Bouissiere to turn the dish into an exact replica of a cheesy Dorito's chip. Dessert is similarly uncanny, with a Japanese IPA erasing all sweetness in a vanilla gelato to become an affable, herbal shot of green tea. Haskell may even end the night with a Reeses' Peanut butter cup and a red that turns into a perfect PB in your mouth.
Colonial Wine Bar's Omakase menu launches tonight with seven courses and seven pairings at $68, with additional courses available and the procession of flavors often hinging on Haskell's whims. If you're seeking a new experience with wine and beer tastings, want to trip out with your food-obsessed friends, or just need to give your palate and head-space a good workout, run don't walk.
The Colonial Wine Bar, 7166 Melrose Ave. Hollywood; 323-657-1827.