Friday, May 6, 2011

It Only Seems Pretentious

20nine Restaurant & Wine Bar
255 East Basse Road, Suite 940
in the Quarry, on the side closest to 281

A quick scan of the online dinner menu for "20nine" convinced me that here we had a truly pretentious wannabe-upscale eatery, appropriately placed somewhere in the citadel of pretense, the Quarry. I mean, really: "Berkshire Pork Cheek Tostadas braised in Ancho Chili's [sic] with Cheddar, Red Onion and Cilantro"? "Grilled Flatbread: Laura Chenel Goat Cheese, Sun Dried Tomatoes, Basil and Parmesan"? I was licking my lips at the prospect of ridiculing this sort of fatuousness. 

Unfortunately for the Curmudgeon, I really liked this place. It's not pretentious if you actually deliver on the high-flown promises you make on the menu. Even my wife (who, having just returned from California, was all primed to spot pretentiousness) found that 20nine lives up to its potential.

For starters, 20nine is different from the other wine bars I've been to in town. They are all, with no exception I've discovered, places to drink overpriced wine while snacking on stale water crackers and under-chilled or over-chilled cheeses of unremarkable character. 20nine, by contrast, is as much a top quality restaurant as it is a wine bar, and much to my surprise its prices for both wine and food were not bad. (In fact, it turned out that we were there at "happy hour" — I hadn't been to a happy hour since I gave up indiscriminate boozing years ago. Stumbling onto this unexpected bonus made the prices better by 25%, hence the favourable value rating.)

In addition to the unusual menu, 20nine offers an extensive wine list (of course); but, even better for the oenodilletante, they offer groupings of wines at reasonable prices. So instead of a six-ounce serving of one wine, you can sample three similar wines in two-ounce servings. I went for the "Road Trip #4, Whimsical Wines": a pinot grigio, a pinot gris, and a pinot blanc. The wife, who is partial to red wines, went for "Road Trip #10, Spanish Wines".

I'm not going to comment on the quality of the wines; I'll leave that for people who actually care about such things. When I read that a wine has "aroma of grapefruit, green apple, honeysuckls, white peach, apricot, lime and floral notes. With [sic] flavors of melon, mineral, lively citrus, stone fruit and honey," I just roll my eyes (and not just because whoever writes for this restaurant has real issues with punctuation). I don't taste any of those things, not even vaguely. It just tastes like wine. One was a little sweeter than the others, and one was a little lighter. Other than that, it was wine. Wine is wine; it's good, or it's not good, and beyond that I just don't care. Well, these were good, even if I didn't taste "bright lemon zest and tropical lime curd" or "pear, banana, peach, anise and honey notes". Those of you who buy into all that wine-talk, go, enjoy, make up descriptions for your friends.

Last city inspection:  May 2010
9 demerits
(they actually count the gnats?!?)
Now, the food. Ooh.

The online menu (April 2011) is out of date, apparently; there have been some changes. We selected fried risotto balls stuffed with Gouda as an appetizer; the wife ordered grilled chicken pasta for her main dish, and I agonized over my choices until I finally selected a jalapeño and beef pizza. (Our waitress's favourite pizza, she confided, as though they weren't really allowed to have favourites.)

While we waited for the appetizer to arrive, our waitress brought a small tray of bread with butter. The bread was a very good, mild sourdough, crusty and yeasty, but the butter was excellent. I cannot remember when I've had a more creamy tasting butter, and I had the waitress ask in the kitchen what kind of butter is was. Unfortunately I've now forgotten the name of it, which I didn't recognize, but believe me, as someone who's tried butters in a lot of civilized and uncivilized places, this butter was vastly superiour to others. 

We also passed the time wondering about the cardboard coasters on the table, bearing the legend "Don't Go Home Alone." This didn't really seem like a pick-up bar; and it's not: the slogan refers to the house's practice of selling all its wines by the bottle or case or something, and they want you to take home a bottle, not the hot '09-er chick or dude you met over a glass of Nobilo '06 at the luxurious bar with the kitschy wine-box footrests. 

I would never have thought that fried risotto balls stuffed with Gouda cheese could be the highlight of any week. They were.

The grilled chicken pasta is a plate of aricchiu in a savory sauce, with cherry tomatoes and thinly sliced chicken. My first taste of it hit on something somewhat bitter, with a strange aftertaste, but it must have been some stray bit of spice that fell into the dish, as several other trials produced nothing but the most exquisite flavours. I would gladly trade a slice or two of pizza for some more of that pasta dish.

Our waitress — Jennifer, by the way; credit where credit is due, she deserves to be mentioned by name as an accomplished practitioner of her craft — has excellent taste: the jalapeño-beef pizza was delicious. A thin sourdough crust topped with mozzarella (not, perhaps, the fabulous house-made mozzarella of Dough Pizzeria, but a reasonably good version), red onion, tomato, and sliced jalapeños — not the pickled kind you get out of a can, but fresh, unprocessed peppers cut as precisely thin as only a very sharp mandoline can manage. And beef: good, hearty chunks of it (the menu says ribeye and tenderloin, but honestly, I didn't pause to evaluate that claim). The overall effect was nearly as good as you can find in the best pizzerias in town.

On its web site, the restaurant promises that its "European sized portions enable our guests to save room for dessert." Don't be misled, as I was, into thinking that the portions are small at all. After splitting an appetizer, I have more than half my pizza sitting in the fridge downstairs, to see me through breakfast and lunch tomorrow; that was no personal-sized pizza, but a full-blown pie; and my wife has at least half of her entrée for similar purpose. And we did not have room for dessert. 

Well, that's not actually correct: we could have squeezed some in but could not agree on which one to split. I narrowed my choices down to three; she narrowed hers down to one, but it wasn't among my three, and we weren't willing to splurge to the point of ordering two desserts. Especially after all that food. 

When I go back to try the bread pudding with white chocolate and cranberries in a vanilla sauce, maybe I'll remember to ask about the butter again. And maybe I'll ask why their logo incorporates the Interstate-Highway shield, instead of the California State Highway triangular sign; after all, the place is named for California Highway 29. I'm just anal-retentive enough to fixate on that.

20nine Restaurant and Wine Bar on Urbanspoon


  1. AnonymousMay 17, 2011

    wish you'd say more about the gouda balls. what made them so good.

  2. I wish I knew. Maybe, if you ask nicely, they will tell you. But even not knowing, you'll enjoy them, I'll bet.

  3. the kind of menu entries you describe at the beginning are one step below name-dropping.

    But your right, this really is a good restarant especially the jalapeno pizza. The godua balls you talk about are made with safron rice with a little ball of cheese in the middle and deep fried. They are excellant.

  4. the fact that you think everything and everyone is " pretentious" says more about you than them.

    1. Like most reasonably self-aware people, I try to be open to criticism, even when it as facile as the bit you offer. After you posted this comment, and the crude comment on my "Thai in the Burbs, II" review from May 2011, I went through and looked at how often I've called something "pretentious" in this blog. I see that I've used the word 5 times in 3 years. On one of those occasions — ironically, this one — my conclusion was that the restaurant under consideration was not pretentious. On another ("What You're Looking For," from June 2012), I referred to the previous occupant of a restaurant space as "slightly more pretentious" than the restaurant being reviewed; in other words, a fancier place. In the fast-food shop that was under discussion, I submit that the description is perfectly valid. Two months ago, in a review of a sushi place here in town, I referred to the use of chopsticks by Americans as "pretentious and patronizing." I stand by that. And in September 2010, I said that the new adjunct to the Quarry Market was " clogging up with pretentious restaurants in need of sampling...". And if you don't think that statement is accurate, then you, my inarticulate reader, are an idiot.

      Maybe the truth is that your glib comment about me really says more about you. In any case, I won't lose any sleep over your bad opinion of me.


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