Nationally known mixologist Alan Walter leans against the bar at the new Proverbial Wine Bistro and asks, “How many places are going to make pairing their main thing? Even in other cities, you don’t see it enough.”
But you will see it in Baton Rouge next week when the latest gem in the City Group Hospitality crown opens in Long Farm Village. Proverbial Wine Bistro is about thoughtful pairings of food with not just wine, but craft beer and detailed cocktails as well, says City Group Hospitality managing partner Stephen Hightower. For the last few months, Hightower has been quietly working on opening the concept, located in the spot recently held by Wildwood Pizza.
“We really wanted to do something different here, and let the cocktails, wines and beer help tell the story of the food,” Hightower says.
City Group’s strategy in refining the concept has included hiring Walter, well known for turning the Loa Bar at the International House Hotel in New Orleans into one of the country’s hippest watering holes. With cocktails awash in foraged local ingredients and tedious preparation methods, Walter is famous for applying a culinary approach to each layer of cocktail construction. Along with establishing Proverbial’s bar program, he will help City Group Hospitality’s other restaurants rethink how drinks support their menus.
“I think the (Proverbial) staff is going to have a blast making clever suggestions about what might go with this or that,” Walter says. “The eating experience is very relaxed and casual; it’s more like grazing.”
Chris Culotta is Proverbial’s general manager, and Steven O’Neill is its executive chef. O’Neill most recently worked under executive chef David Dickensauge at Beausoleil Coastal Cuisine, another City Group establishment. Here, he turns out a menu that’s approach is deliberately communal, and asks you to park your protein-starch-veggie entree prejudices at the door. That hottest of current culinary trends—food boards—come in many variations for dinner, dessert and brunch.
The steakhouse-inspired “Godfather” board, assembles a grilled 16-ounce ribeye with duck fat-roasted fingerling potatoes, spinach Rockefeller, roasted cauliflower, roasted garlic, sautéed mushrooms, and an inviting ramekin of housemade Worcestershire sauce. On the vegetarian board, grilled and marinated Portobello mushroom caps mingle with harissa carrots, pressed watermelon salad, roasted golden beets with feta, fresh bread slices and a bee pollen-dusted honeycomb, with surprise!, fresh granola. So many bites to curate.
The menu also includes other shareable appetizers, salads and small plates, as well as some traditional entrees.
Along with detailed cocktails, the restaurant aims to introduce diners to new wines, says wine manager Hilary Haniff.
“Our biggest focus on the wine list is going to be to try and introduce people to unfamiliar varietals or regions,” she says. “But we’ll also have those regions and varietals you’re more familiar with. I’m looking forward to asking customers what kinds of profiles they’re looking for, and suggesting something they’ll enjoy.”
The décor is warm and sophisticated with moss green banquets and soft, brown leather-backed chairs. The walls are painted a shade of green inspired by traditional Burgundy bottles, says Hightower. A covered side patio with ceiling fans and wintertime heat lamps gives diners an al fresco option.
The restaurant’s logo is a red woodcut image of Pliny the Elder, the Roman philosopher who said, “In wine, there is truth.” Look for a stencil of Pliny’s image in the occasional cocktail or coffee foam, says bar manager Nick Carpenter.
And for diners inspired to write their own quotable quotes, a Plexiglass wall has been designed to capture their creativity. Buy a bottle of wine, scribble a proverb on the cork and drop it through. One day, it’ll be piled high with pearls of wisdom.