Have you ever told a friend, "I simply have to come see you sometime!" and then ended up saying that every time you ran into each other? And then, by the time you're ready, or he's ready, something has changed?
Marc may have left Bacchus, but the wine list and menu he designed is very much alive and well. I talked him into meeting me to discuss what he did while he was there. I was also looking for suggestions for some new things to try.
"When I designed the wine list," he said, "I deliberately wanted to stick with Mediterranean selections. It just seemed to suit the place." The same went for the food. Bacchus's menu of light bites includes items like Greek olives and hummus made in-house from a Lebanese recipe.
Marc's list is, overall, brilliant. It's hard enough to pull together a comprehensive, good selection of wines from all of the choices out there. He not only managed to do that, he was able to serve two masters.
First, the menu covers the bases for anyone who walks in and "just wants a Chardonnay" or "just wants a Cabernet Sauvignon." He has those things, and they're all very nice. Second, he remained true to his goal of a Mediterranean wine list. Sure, he has a Chardonnay. It's from Israel, and it's remarkable. Want a Malbec? No problem; here's a 2009 Albatros from France. (A note on the menu reminds us that Malbecs originated in France, not Argentina.) Those twists keep someone like me, who has a lot to learn but is not new to wine, interested and excited.
I tasted six different wines, and I liked everything. This never happens. Additionally, there are only five items on Bacchus's wine list that are more than $49 for a bottle. Most range between $27 and $36.
By far, the most remarkable thing we tried was the 2004 Copertino Reserva of mostly Negroamaro grapes with a little Malvasia. It's from Italy, and I can see why it's labeled as a "house favorite" on Bacchus's menu. It originally seemed to have three layers: a strangely pleasant mustiness on the nose (like going into an awesome attic where there are wonderful treasures in old leather trunks and dresses still on mannequins), very ripe blackberry and black plum on the palate, and a surprisingly arid finish.
It proved to be a chameleon, though. Having it with a little baklava seemed to erase sweet notes, leaving cleaner berry notes. Speaking of the baklava... Bacchus gets theirs from a Greek lady that makes them herself. I think that's the only kind of baklava that should be allowed to be sold.
We also tried the Mediterranean Sampler, which included small portions of the hummus, in-house marinated olives, dolmades, cornichons (France) and crispy pita chips that stood up to dipping but crunched merrily in our mouths.
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Sometimes I try something new and kick myself. "Why didn't I ever think of that?" I ask. Bacchus has a thin, grilled sandwich called el Penedés that has Spanish chorizo, zamorano cheese and smashed green grapes. The grapes go amazingly well with the fattiness of the chorizo. I could have eaten three of these. It never would have occurred to me to include grapes in a sandwich.
While I disagree that Illy is "the world's best coffee," as Bacchus touts on its web site (try some of the offerings from our smaller, local roasters), I was greatly pleased when I walked in and saw Michelle Dinh behind the counter. Michelle is an experienced barista who also works at Greenway Coffee. Talent and conscientiousness counts for a great deal when making a good espresso, and I liked my Illy cappuccino just fine, while my partner Chuck had a cortado he enjoyed.
Bacchus is just a bit off the beaten path of Westheimer so people need to go one block north on Dunlavy. It's worth finding, though, and the big, white building, inspired by Greek architecture, is hard to miss once you get there. There's a big patio that will be very enjoyable in the spring. While you're there, take a moment to admire the patchwork marble floor; the place used to be the showroom for the marble company next door. (The owner of the marble company owns Bacchus as well.)