DIVINE: Dried figs stuffed with goat cheese.
Eating, drinking and talking have always been our "core competencies," "leveraged" to create an "end-to-end solution" that delivers supreme joy and a few pounds around the middle.
Sorry to slip into corporate speak, but it automatically started flowing after enjoying several fine afternoons and evenings eating, drinking and talking at Zin, the super-cool newish wine and beer bar that sits in the shadow of Acxiom's corporate headquarters. And nobody knows corporate speak like the Acxiom data masseuses who hopefully will make Zin their favorite after-work hangout.
Zin is one of a growing number of establishments along a T formed by Third Street and River Market Avenue (formerly known as Commerce Street). With Copper Grill, Dugan's Pub, Brown Sugar Bake Shop, Dizzy's Gypsy Bistro and Zin all dotted along that stretch, there now is enough "critical mass" for a "holistic" off-Clinton-Avenue River Market eating/drinking experience.
The first thing you'll notice about Zin is the ambiance, an important ingredient many bar and restaurant owners overlook or underplay. From the cool wall treatments to the modern, upscale furniture, the art, the music — all combine to create a hip vibe that isn't overblown or pretentious. It feels good to be at Zin.
The good feeling continues when you see your wine selection is brought in top-notch Riedel glassware. Yes, you might drink wine from a Styrofoam cup at a tailgate party, but it just isn't the same. Ponying up for this fine stemware is just one of many flourishes owners Michael Puckett and Troy Deal saw fit to include, and Zin is a better place for all of them.
Zin has a broad and deep wine menu that omits the tired, tried-and-true choices you might find at a place that doesn't focus on wine. There are about 45 choices spread across whites, reds, bubblies and ports, with all but 10 or so available by the glass. There are a few "wine flight" choices, which include three-ounce pours of three wines. We adore the affordable, full-flavored wines from Alexander Valley Vineyards, one of the last family-owned major wineries in Sonoma County, and enjoyed revisiting the cleverly named Temptation, Sin and Redemption zinfandels flight.
As you might expect, the wines change periodically at Zin, so we can't swear all of these will be there when you go, but if so, consider:
• J Lohr Arroyo Vista Chardonnay ($11) — high-dollar but worth it, a rich, well-balanced, upper-tier white from a renowned California winery.
• Parallele 45 Rose ($8) — proof pink wine doesn't have to be sweet; roses are crisp, flavorful, refreshing, a great warmer-weather choice usually overlooked in these parts.
• Coppola Director's Cut Cabernet Sauvignon ($11) — a big, bold Napa cab; great with food or solo.
• Sean Minor "Four Bears" Cabernet Sauvignon ($9) — tons of flavor, but smooth and not overly tannic.
• Leese Fitch (any variety) — Zin's house wine, available for $7 and reduced to $5 at happy hour. These are solid, very drinkable California selections that won't disappoint.
If you like to broaden your wine horizons, know that Zin on Wednesdays does 5 to 8 p.m. tastings that usually include decent pours of five wines from a single producer for a modest $15 charge. And if wine's not your thing, Zin features 10 bottled beers. Yes, you can get a Bud Light, but why not invest 50 cents more and try a Goose Island Honkers Ale?
We now have three wine bars (Crush, By the Glass and Zin, in order of their openings), and all have chosen the same food approach: fine meats and cheeses, served with Boulevard's unbeatable bread, with a few other items orbiting that center.
Zin does it as well as any of them. We were particularly impressed with the spicy calabrese, a dry Italian pork sausage with a major kick and lots of flavor, and the Cotswold, which has chives and a bit of onion infused in Glouster, a semi-hard cow's milk cheese. Both were divine. Choose three items among the five cheeses and three meats, served with bread and/or crackers, for $10.
The unexpected treat was the stuffed figs ($7) — a beautifully presented plate of dried figs, stuffed with a light, creamy goat cheese, drizzled with a balsamic reduction and dotted with sprigs of basil. The balsamic gives the cheesy figs a hint of sweet that makes them dessert. Divine.
Zin is open seven days, unlike many of its River Market-area brethren, and Sunday is a great time to wander down. Through March, a bowl of soup and a glass of the Leese Fitch is only $10. In April, the plan is to convert to a salad/wine combo for the same $10. We've so far enjoyed the Italian Wedding Soup and the Wisconsin Cheese. And, yes, we enjoyed the wine, too.
Zin Urban Wine & Beer Bar
300 River Market Avenue (formerly Commerce Street)
Sunday is a great day to visit Zin. Not only is it one of a limited number of River Market spots open on the Sabbath, there also is a great $10 deal in place – a glass of house wine and a bowl of soup through March, and then wine and salad through the warmer months.
4 p.m. until an unnamed closing time Monday through Saturday, 3:30 p.m. until close Sunday.
Credit cards accepted, beer and wine.