A thoughtful wine list makes a restaurant's food even more enjoyable

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By: Frank Piaskowy

Frank Piaskowy/Flavor 574

I am not often inclined to eat at “chain” restaurants, preferring the local, unique and value eating establishments. Javier’s Bistro in South Bend fits those criteria and then some.

Approaching the restaurant for the first time, at 2007 Miami St., I was impressed by the south side neighborhood location and outdoor signage. The visuals included on-street parking and sidewalk sandwich board in front of the entrance with updated announcements.

Additionally, an overhead sign displayed a smiling Chef Javier in full uniform with a plated burger in one hand while holding a bottle of wine in the other. The sign was painted to the owner/chef’s specifications by an artist friend.

Noting the wine bottle, I wondered what the wine list might have to offer.

Chef Javier admits he did not grow up with wine. Among ten siblings, he is one of three born in Elgin, Ill., after the family moved from Puerto Rico. Recognizing his passion while working as a teen in a pizzeria, he completed culinary school in Chicago with honors.

He was mentored in food and wine pairing by a certified master chef at the San Antonio Marriott more than twenty years ago. His “knack” for pairing was identified at that time.

The bistro’s wine list is small but thoughtful and diverse. When it first opened almost two years ago, only five or six wines were offered.

Chef Javier has since carefully built the list based on his savory, Puerto Rican influenced menu. There are currently seven west coast wines, one Spanish, two New Zealand and three Italian white wines ranging from Sauvignon Blanc to a Gewürztraminer blend.

I was motivated to visit the restaurant based on what I had heard about the seafood. Chef Javier takes pride in using fresh ingredients, including fish and meat. The cole slaw is made in-house.

Having ordered the grilled barramundi entrée, I selected a glass of Albarino. The grape is grown in a Spanish maritime province north of Portugal. The wine typically has crisp, lemon tartness with hints of minerality that pairs extremely well with delicate seafood. (Think of squeezing a lemon over food to enhance flavor.)

Red wines on the list vary from Grenache to blends, including six from the west coast, two each from Spain and Argentina and one each from Chile, New Zealand and Italy.

When drinking red wine, particular attention should be paid to the Mojito pork and grilled steak dishes.

Conveniently, most wines are available by the glass as well as by the bottle here.

In my opinion, this venue represents an excellent causal and value driven dining option where a patron’s enjoyment is enhanced by the chef’s personal attention and his “free hand” cooking. Chef Javier describes the ambience as “quaint, retro”. “Yes, Chef”, I have to agree.

Vignettes:

• The Albarino grape is thought by many to be well suited to southwest Michigan. Several wineries, included Tabor Hill Winery, have established test plots. St. Julian Winery has a Braganini reserve Albarino available for purchase at the winery or online.

• Except on Sunday, Indiana law permits any business with a retail restaurant liquor license to re-cork an unfinished bottle of wine to be taken home by customers. Clarification of status for specific restaurants in St. Joseph or Elkhart counties can be obtained by contacting the Indiana State Excise Police, District 1, office at 574-264-9480.

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