For this week’s post, I wrote about E 4th Street, specifically Wonder Bar. While we were very impressed with the overall progress of the neighborhood, we were a bit disappointed with Wonder Bar. But it’s still early and I can only assume things will continue to improve. We’ll be back, just not right away. Here’s the recap:
Wow. East Fourth Street has really come a long way. The last time I checked in on this area’s progress was in the spring during dinner at Lola. What a difference a few seasons can make.
The night was ideal for perusing the various establishments — perfect fall weather. People were sitting outside everywhere you looked, from Zocalo to Corner Alley to Pickwick to Wonder Bar, which was our final destination. The street, while still a work in progress, reminded me of a section in Philadelphia’s Old City District. To me, seeing people eating and drinking outside all along the street, thanks to new patios and open-air restaurants, is a big part of this neighborhood’s charm and atmosphere.
After people watching and checking out the area’s overall progress, we decided to grab a light dinner at Wonder Bar, the new jazz and tapas spot.
The intimate space itself is really nice. I love old buildings that have been transformed but manage to maintain the charm of its history. The tray ceiling is a perfect example. It’s very ornate with a lot of molding and overall Victorian design. I also enjoyed the open kitchen with huge windows as a backdrop showing the brick side of the neighboring building and fire escape. Free art.
When given a beautiful space as a starting point, the possibilities are endless. And while Wonder Bar is off to a good start, you can’t help but feel as though they stopped halfway through and left many details unfinished. For probably less than $3,500, they could finish the interior design and give it a better vibe overall. For example, there isn’t anything on the walls except one lonely mirror. Why not carry the mirror theme throughout and display really ornate, vintage-looking mirrors along the walls — maybe 3 or 4 on each side. And the large mirror above the bar should not be left as is, but rather framed. Little touches like that could really make a difference.
The kitchen itself is wide open, which significantly adds to the atmosphere. The smells coming from that corner hit you as soon as you walk in, so I was eager to order and sample the creations of Chef Michael Walsh. I started off with a glass of Col des Vents Rouge, which I enjoyed, and we shared the sweet corn chowder, butternut squash gratin (which the chef sent over), prosciutto wrapped shrimp (both specials), the honey bourbon glazed pork ribs and chocolate chip cookies for dessert.
The soup was rather tasty. The consistency was not very heavy or even what you’d expect in a chowder, but instead rather brothlike. Regardless, it was good and flavorful. The gratin was a unique dish, with a caramel-corn streusel on top — a perfect fall pairing. This dish was pretty good overall. I liked all the tastes, especially the sweet and crunchy streusel, but was a little let down that the butternut squash was not that noticeable. The ribs, perhaps our favorite of the small plates, were sticky, sweet, a bit smoky and cooked perfectly. A decent sized portion, too, for tapas. Finally, the shrimp. This dish overall was disappointing. As a self-proclaimed prosciutto fanatic, I was disappointed by the overall lack of flavor. The presentation was nice, but the prosciutto was bland, the shrimp tough and the truffle-tomato glaze tasted like nothing more than ketchup. In theory it sounded great, but just didn’t deliver.
What did deliver, and then some, were the chocolate chip cookies. At first, we hesitated to pay $7 for three lonely cookies. That’s it — just the cookies. Not a glass of milk or a scoop of ice cream anywhere in sight. But as soon as we saw the cookies go into the oven, that wonderful, homemade smell took over the entire restaurant. That intense smell alone caused people to stop talking, look around and flag down the nearest server.
The cookies were thick and oversized. After one bite, I realized my hands would need assistance. The inside is still gooey and dough-like, and the rich chocolate can easily get everywhere, so a fork is a much-needed tool. This made me think of the Seinfeld episode when George started eating candy bars with a knife and fork and witnessing this odd behavior from others. After eating these perfect cookies (which I’d happily pay $7 for again) I have a feeling the whole fork thing will catch on quickly here too.
One final thought on the place. Before we headed out for the evening, I checked out Wonder Bar’s Web site. While I can appreciate the owners being excited about the opening and wanting to share pictures, I’m not sure if they realize those very pictures are obstructing half the site. You can’t see the phone number or read half the copy — some significant information I’m sure they would want in plain view. Makes you wonder.