Bar Wars

Three toasts of the town

Charred baby octopus and a glass of Gros Manseng from Oak Wine Bar and Bistro

Cheryl Gerber

In the past few months, a slew of new bars have opened their doors. They all have a few things in common: fabulous cocktails, cheeseboards, hefty wine lists, small plates created by the masterminds of already popular restaurants – and they’re all nonsmoking. The shift from huge American portions to pared-down noshing is a welcome trend for many of us, who long for just a bite to eat. So how well do these newbies stack up against each other? You be the judge.

Twenty thousand leagues under the sea, there dwelled a gigantic cephalopod waiting to attack anyone in a striped boatneck. At Oak Wine Bar and Bistro, the charred baby octopus with Serrano ham and potato salad makes me feel like I’ve died and gone to heaven, impervious to my nautical fall fashions. Blame the suction marks on your date if you have to. Chef Aaron Burgau’s menu of small plates solidifies his culinary innovativeness, pulling out a range of sinful and fresh creations from his repertoire. The melt-in-your-mouth pork belly served with a quail and baguette toad-in-the-hole pairs nicely with any of the red wines from the trendy Vending Machine Vineyards. The burrata and heirloom tomatoes with Saba dressing and Fleur de Sel put any Caprese salad to shame. Here, the burrata cheese (a Buffalo milk cheese made from mozzarella and cream) floats atop the tomatoes like a dreamy, buttery cloud. The newly renovated space on Oak Street is quite large, with red banquettes, beautiful tiles behind the bar and a whitewashed feel that gives this space a clean, urban ambience. A stage and piano sit near the entrance. Live music on the weekends brings in the crowds; so if you plan on an intimate affair, go during the week. When the Po-Boy Preservation Festival descends upon Oak Street on November 14, this will be the place to put your feet up.

The modern, masculine Bouligny Tavern is irresistible with its brown vintage couches, sleek modern coffee tables, dark turquoise banquettes and a style that’s sexy enough for “Mad Men.” Chef John Harris has created an impeccable small plates menu to accompany the ample selection of wine and classic cocktails. Kobe pigs in a blanket and Gouda beignets will make you feel like a kid again. A Blood & Sand cocktail – supposedly named for the Rudolph Valentino film, as he preferred this scotch-based drink – is a potent tincture for the true adult. A selection of crustini and bruschetta – try the marrow and garlic or the burrata with olive oil and sea salt – abound as do many beautiful people clad in their finest. The Australian Langoustine, a sweet lobster-like shellfish, is encrusted in croutons and topped with a buttery garlic sauce sure to induce mild addiction. The Kuramoto oysters, salty gems from the Pacific, are the perfect way to start. The perfect way to finish: sample pastry chef Beth Blundo’s homemade ice cream, like the spiced pumpkin served with salty ginger snap cookies.

Eiffel Society is a high-concept meddling of cocktails, small plates, art and music in the Lower Garden District.

The entrance is framed by an abundance of fragrant herbs used in all of Chef Ian Schnoebelen’s eclectic small plates. You can eat on a flying carpet if you so desire. You can drink Alan Walter’s herbaceous cocktails in a small room of mirrors and shards of light. Each week the bar chef highlights five new cocktails based around what’s fresh from their on-site garden. Mixologist Jeremy JF Thompson’s Below Sea Level Sazerac, a mixture of Bols Genever, grapefruit, bitters and a chartreuse rinse, is an effeminate answer to the king of all cocktails. Pair it with the sea scallops, served here with kaffir beurre blanc, greens from the Vietnamese market and tempura scallions. A worldly flare comprises the menu, with grass-fed beef empanadas, handmade raviolis and even a hearty Korean short-rib pho for cold weather comfort. Later in the night, Eiffel Society exudes a club atmosphere with flashing lights in the elevator and above the dance floor. For a true light show, drink and dine while the sun is setting beyond those sweeping windows.
 

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