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April 2008

The Review:
Soif Wine Cheese and Tapas Bar
Written By: 
Patricia Agnew
Photographs By: 
Christopher Brown

I’On dwellers are celebrating a heady addition to their culinary repertoire with the recent arrival of sparkling, sassy Soif Wine Cheese and Tapas Bar.

So much more than its name implies, this pleasant oasis is bursting with neighborhood café spirit and tempting food as well as feisty fruits of the vine. We stopped in recently for an impromptu dinner, and what we found, we loved: warm hospitality, and creative, beautifully presented food and wine offered in cheerful, casual fashion.

Soif, the creation of charismatic Napa Valley vineyard owner Gail Summars, offers a trio of spaces: a handsome wine shop, a contemporary bistro and wine bar, and a welcoming alfresco breezeway that joins the two. Tasteful décor features polished wood, rich claret walls, and large gnarled vines that lend an earthy energy. An impressive wine selection inspires imaginative, affordable pairings that transport diners on a tasteful “trip” around the world.

Offered a table in the breezeway, we were at first hesitant, as the evening was cool and damp. Fortunately, we were quite comfortable, thanks to attractive canvas drapes that lent ­privacy and protection from the breeze. We received assurance from our server that she would return shortly with recommendations for food and wine pairings—an offer we didn’t refuse. The wine list featured several dozen reds and whites. Thanks to Summars’ experience as a vineyard owner, her list includes many hard-to-come-by (at least for our region) boutique finds that allow guests to spend a little or a lot depending upon taste and mood.

Fare choices include executive chef Bradley Grozis’ tasting menu as well as small plates from the regular menu and special offerings of the evening. Grozis prides himself on serving food that’s as fresh as it can possibly be. We were impressed with the menus and anxious to enjoy the best of each, a decision that was enhanced by the chef’s welcome and frequent guidance throughout the evening. We quickly found that the staff is one of Soif’s greatest assets. From beginning to end, we were led on an enthusiastic journey of pairings that required little of us other than to enjoy.

After considerable discussion, we opted for a selection from the regular menu and specials. The fresh mozzarella salad was a splendid combination of cheese and granny smith apples, bacon lardons, locally grown arugula, Napa cabbage, pine nuts, pecans, and macadamias. Anointed with olive oil, balsamic, and pomegranate molasses, its full complexity emerged when paired with Row Eleven Vinas 3 pinot noir. Cool and refreshing cucumber, strawberry, and basil soup surprised the palate with distinct tart, sweet, and savory flavors with a creamy finish. Beautifully served, it was generously laden with Point Reyes bleu cheese and expertly paired with Husch Vineyards chenin blanc that lent a nice balance.

We also loved the sauté of fat escargot cradled in large mushroom caps prepared with just the right measure of garlic herb butter. Bold Napa Stratton Lummis cabernet sauvignon lent a rich finish to this much-loved classic. Our final savory selection, the Fontina de Asti fondue, blended D.O.P. (Denominazione di Origine Protetta, a regulated Italian food-producing region) Fontina cheese with white wine and fine herbs paired with bâtards of crisp celery root, sliced apple, flat bread, and baguette. We persevered until the last irresistible bite—each deliciously paired with Budini malbec from Argentina—was gone. A slice of rose-scented flourless chocolate cake served with luxurious dark chocolate sauce—a velvet rendition featuring a blooming rose garnish crafted with fresh petals atop a cappelini stem—formed an exquisite finale.

Soif refreshes and rewards with Summars’ charm and wine knowledge and Grozis’ cuisine. Given the restaurant’s limited space, reservations would be wise.

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