Sometimes the best meal is just a little bit of wine, a little bit of cheese, and some good company.
When I'm in the mood for that, I'll raid the AJ's cheese department to put together a nice plate of fromage. To go with it, I'll seek out a great baguette, and a bunch of crackers and fruits and cured meats. Even if I'm too tired to cook, it gives me a sense of accomplishment.
But despite my finely honed ability to assemble a mean snack spread, I still love going out to wine bars for all the things that my own living room can't offer. Namely, the people-watching, the unusual wines, and casual, scrumptious food. I'm comfortable navigating wine lists unassisted, but since wine bar menus don't usually offer specific food and wine pairings the way some high-end restaurants do, it's nice to be able to grab a bite and get advice on what to drink with it.
Postino is my gold standard, and I'm sure I'm not alone — their bruschetta is still the best in town. And I've been known to nosh at The Roosevelt and Kazimierz. Still, as much as I love those places, it's fun to seek out something different. Recently, I checked out a couple of other spots, Terroir Wine Pub and Bomberos Café & Wine Bar.
And what did I learn? Not all wine bars are created equal.
Terroir Wine Pub calls itself "Scottsdale's Friendliest Wine Pub," and for that reason alone, I thought it was worth a try. It also came recommended by a wine-obsessed friend. But now that I've been there, Terroir's got me mulling over all those reasons I love wine bars.
Wine is really only a minor part of it. Because honestly, the places I like most are wine bars I'd frequent even if I were drinking iced tea. Terroir isn't that kind of place, though. It's much more suited to serious wine drinking, as I discovered the first time I came here — and left hungry.
The atmosphere is comfy enough. Tucked into the Scottsdale Seville Center, at Scottsdale Road and Indian Bend, Terroir occupies a corner space with lots of windows facing an outdoor patio. Inside, there's a rectangular bar with a flat-screen TV, a few high tables, a secluded booth next to racks of wine bottles, and some couches around a low table. There's also a private tasting room for 20.
True to the name, Terroir did feel a bit more like a pub than a wine bar, especially when there were solo drinkers hanging out at the bar. (From what I could tell, Terroir has a crew of regulars.) The list of about three dozen wines by the glass contained no tasting notes, although friendly servers were around to offer recommendations when asked.
But even when I think "pub," I also think "grub." On that front, Terroir could really stand to amp up its offerings.
I expect a limited menu at a place like this, but Terroir's selection still disappointed. Incredibly, an entire order of bruschetta was not enough to fill me up — four stingy slices of toast that resembled crackers. I liked toppings like cream cheese with prosciutto and figs, or melted mozzarella with prosciutto and basil, but mixing and matching wasn't an option. So when my order of smoked salmon, cream cheese, and caper bruschetta tasted too fishy, I wasn't keen to eat four pieces of it.
A plate of hummus looked pretty, but one taste of the cold chickpea dip and I was convinced it was grocery store stuff. The bread that accompanied it tasted like semi-stale Safeway. And the signature cheese plate, served with more of that bread, was a beautiful arrangement of nothing-special cheeses (Swiss, aged cheddar, and Manchego), slices of apple and pear, and a few grapes. Excuse me if I start snoring.
Anyway, the big upside is that Terroir gives the most generous wine pours I've seen, and the list of wines by the glass changes almost daily. Just eat dinner before you come here to drink, and you'll be fine.
The first time I set foot in Bomberos, I knew I could become a regular here.
What can I say? This hip, laid-back eatery is not just the coolest thing in Sunnyslope, it's one of the best local wine bars, period. The name means "firemen" in Spanish, which is fitting because owners Oscar and Kristi Mastrantuono transformed an old fire station into an inviting hangout that specializes in South American wines. (Oscar's a native of Uruguay.)
The sleek dining room is filled with deep, chocolate-y brown leather furniture and a mix of seating — some small two-tops, a few tables for larger groups, and couches perfect for lounging. Concrete block walls and large glass "garage" doors that retract into the ceiling give it a minimalist, airy feel. You can also perch at a tiny bar next to a wall of wine storage, or venture out back to find a couch on the lush, shady patio. At night, it just glows, thanks to heat lamps and a blazing fire pit.
South American wines have quite the buzz these days, so it was fun to explore the wine list, more than 30 selections from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and (of course) Uruguay. Just reading the descriptions made my mouth water, and servers did a good job helping me narrow down my choices. But like I said, I appreciate a wine bar where there's a lot more than wine to grab my attention.
First off, the bruschetta was outstanding — up there with Postino, really (and that's saying something). Three large slices of fresh, crusty bread, each cut in half for sharing, were as filling as an entrée, and you could choose different toppings. Warm Brie with figs and prosciutto wasn't original, but it was still tasty. Meanwhile, tapenade (made with olives, artichokes, tomatoes, and roasted red peppers) was more finely chopped and complex than the usual version.
Creamy, milky mozzarella was teamed with ripe tomato, drops of olive oil, and sea salt, while alternating slices of salami and Manchego were drizzled with pesto. I also loved the warm atun escabechado, basically tangy tuna salad with onions and capers, capped with melted Manchego.
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Bomberos served a lovely cheese plate heaped with dried fruits and nuts and excellent bread; it was hard to choose only three from the selection of wine-marinated Drunken Goat, Brie, Manchego, Iberico, and Gorgonzola. The meat platter was also impressive, laden with silky prosciutto, thinly sliced salami, Spanish chorizo, roasted peppers, and house-marinated olives.
I'd also come back here for a panino. Most of the fillings were similar to the bruschetta toppings; mine was thinly sliced apples and gooey Brie in between wonderfully crispy, golden slices of pressed bread.
Desserts change frequently, but all you need to know is that they're made by celebrated downtown baker Tammie Coe. My chocolate torte was dense, delicious, and a good match for the red I was drinking.
But at Bomberos, the food is so good I wouldn't even mind if I were stuck being the designated driver from time to time.