Like Oceanaire, The Wine Loft is one of those rare chains that keeps its corporate identity happily under wraps. Actually, it kinda keeps everything under wraps—in buns, in puff pastry, in ravioli. But I’ll come back to the food. The point is that, walking into the darkly burnished space with its long mirrored bar, its discrete, low-slung, leather-swathed lounging pods & cylindrical pendant lamps, you feel like it genuinely belongs in Lodo—circa 1999, perhaps, but right there nonetheless; certainly its personality doesn’t feel any more manufactured than that of, say, the Oak Tavern.
There is one way in which it stands out from the downtown pack, however: it’s usually (& unusually) quiet—partly due to its size, which allows everyone to scatter to their own private corners, & partly due to the simple & much-appreciated fact that they keep the music to a level that encourages civilized conversation. Or raunchy conversation, for that matter, or a series of grunts. It’s not what you say, it’s how loud you have to say it that I get all worked up about.
So I’ve found myself here quite a bit lately for this or that tête-à-tête over a glass of carménère—a.k.a. malbec 2.0—& a might-as-well-since-I’m-here-type nibble. Which is pretty much what the menu consists of: a handful of small plates whose common characteristic, as is the case at many Denver wine bars—the Village Cork & Tastes come to mind—is their ready-made quality. One imagines a small kitchen with a small staff whose main jobs are to thaw dough & cut cheese. Which is fine; it means the food’s never likely to be much more than fine too, but I guess it’s all about the wine, eh? Why it can’t be about both is unclear to me, but then, so is much in life that probably shouldn’t be.
And some of it really is just fine. Like the wild mushroom bruschetta with manchego. Meaty, earthy, cheesy, crusty, what’s not to enjoy?
And the rich, drippy combo of sliced filet, blue cheese & onion jam that filled the pistolettes, to use the menu’s term loosely (a Cajun tradition, pistolette rolls are really supposed to be hollowed out & stuffed, like Hot Pockets).
The brie en croute—which came with bread, lest we needed yet more starch with our starch—was pretty clunky; from inside the fairly thick pastry, the cheese didn’t positively ooze out so much as kinda slump. The fact is that it just wasn’t a great brie—your basic factory-processed single crème, not your farmstead labor of love. Still, it was edible, with its drizzles of honey & reduced balsamic & sprinkle of spiced pecans.
The only total blunder was this dish of shrimp & blue cheese pastry with sweet chili sauce—&, supposedly, toasted walnuts, though I don’t recall any.
But then it didn’t give me much of anything to recall beyond a sort of salty mush inside puff pastry with all the finesse of plastic.
The same could be said of our server, by the way, who had an unsettling habit of taking a seat on one of the ottoman at our table while we ordered—legs spread, elbows on knees, hands clasped & brow furrowed, like a coach about to talk us through a critical play. The schtick was like his version of flair or something, & equally unconvincing.
He certainly didn’t convince us to order further—we’d had about as many things enscased in dough as we could stuff down for one evening. I’ll be back—hopefully, though not likely, to a somewhat more varied repertoire.