- CRUSH ON GRAPES: Night Owl is nice.
Our longing for a wine bar in Little Rock made us well disposed toward Crush Wine and Cheese Bar, and the new River Market District establishment doesn’t disappoint — in the things that matter most.
It offers splendid, well-priced, hard-to-find wines by the glass, delicious appetizers of cubes of Italian cheeses, wafer-thin meats and properly chewy French bread with tangy pestos. The service is friendly, learned and accommodating. The decor, with clusters of comfortable club chairs and low tables and bright canvases on the walls, offers comfort. And the prices are exceedingly reasonable.
But, as in love (and we do love our wine), our longing heightened our expectations beyond what Crush, currently, meets. That doesn’t mean we won’t be visiting frequently. A good bar, like a good man, is hard to find.
First, the wines. Owner Joe St. Ana knows his wine, and Crush’s menu of wines by both the bottle and the glass reflects his knowledge, his thoughtfulness and his range of both. It offers many excellent vintages for $4 and $5 a glass, at least 15 by our count.
The Terrazas Reserve malbec cost $6; wildly aromatic, smooth and full-bodied, it would have been a good value at twice that price. The Night Owl pinot noir, which we would have ordered for the romance of the name alone, was delightful.
We had two great whites at $8 apiece: a Sauvion Sancerre, a sauvignon blanc, and a “miscellaneous white,” La Mirada Albarinio. The Sancerre stole our heart and literally made our mouth water with its paradoxical qualities of gentle lemon and the taste of freshly made butter. Having actually churned milk for our farmwife grandmother, we know the heavenly nature of fresh butter, which melts fat on the tongue yet tastes somehow of the sea.
Our first visit, on a rainy Second Friday Art Night in downtown, we soloed it (I know that royal “we” makes no logical sense but “we” like it), and were made to feel completely comfortable as “we” sat in one of the cozy chairs by the window, read “our” magazine and drank two glasses of wine. “We” did not feel, or were made to feel, like a cheap barfly. “We” felt like an adult.
On our second visit, this time with our cousin, we thought we’d make a meal of it and ordered the French bread with assorted pesto ($4), the cheese plate (cubes of drunken goat cheese, manchego and smoked mozzarella) and the meat plate (prosciutto, Genoa salami and soprassata), accompanied by dense foccacia cubes and briny green and black olives, and each plate at the crazy reasonable price of $6. What is Joe thinking with these prices? What were we thinking when the two of us ordered enough food for four?
As intended, these tapas provided perfect accompaniment for our wines, good eating and staved off drunkenness, a condition that destroys the enjoyment of both good wine and good food.
Our bill for two glasses of wine apiece and three tapas dishes, which constituted a full dinner, came to $44. That’s exceptional value.
Now for the quibbles that you knew were coming.
We think that St. Ana’s stated aim to, and we paraphrase, introduce fine wines to the common man (and woman) is noble. Crush seeks to serve the shorts-clad tourist or the name-tag-wearing conventioneer as well as the professional who just wants a safe place to drink a good glass of wine and think quiet thoughts.
We think he’s made an excellent start.
But we think that disposable “sporks” (those wretched spoon-fork hybrids that are incapable of doing the business of either) and paper napkins are just wrong, except maybe at picnics. There is no elegant way to dispose of olive pits in flimsy cocktail-sized paper napkins. We want big, soft (starch not necessary), white cotton or linen napkins. We hope that business becomes brisk enough for St. Ana eventually to invest in them.
And we urge you to make it so.
Crush Wine and Cheese Bar
115 E. Markham St.
Alone or in company, having a glass or two of wine at Crush and nibbling on the delicious appetizers is a perfect way to relax and spend an hour — or two. And you can get a glass of decent sherry! Now that’s progress.
Hours: 4 p.m.-midnight Tue.-Thu., 4 p.m.-1 a.m. Fri., 4 p.m.-midnight Sat.
Inexpensive to moderate prices. Credit cards accepted.