Have a hankering to explore the finest wines the world has to offer, have a bite to eat, and share it with friends? Consider visiting Grapes Wine Bar on Forest Drive in Annapolis. Patrick Bouculat dreamed of having an old-style wine bar like those in his native France. Using the connections he developed over his thirty years of working in the wine industry (in wholesale and in management at Mills Fine Wine and Spirits on Main Street, and at his own wine store, Wine Cellars of Annapolis), he offers limited editions of wines from vineyards with smaller productions, by the glass, and at affordable prices. Grapes has won the Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence two years in a row.
With the addition of Chef Carro Oldham, who trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and who has thirteen years of experience in Parisian restaurants, Bouculat’s dream is a reality. Chef Oldham’s inspiration for the menu comes from ingredients that are fresh and in season, and, of utmost importance, can go along with the wines. “We try to source locally. Our food is French inspired with a modern twist, with new colors and new flavors,” says Chef Oldham.
We arrive rather early, 5 p.m. on a Monday evening. The aroma of roast chicken greets us at the door, Monday being roast chicken and frites night. The room is not crowded yet, but as the night progresses, the bar stools and the dining tables gradually fill. Some diners eat alone. The decor is faultless, rustic, with wine barrels along the wall. Tall mirrors reflect the bustle. Soft natural light illuminates the chic scene through large plate glass windows. Not a detail is out of place.
We begin our journey into the menu with glasses of wine: a 2014 Biale Black Chicken Zinfandel from Napa for me, and a 2010 Château Gontey Saint-Émilion Grand Cru Bordeaux for my companion. A blackboard lists the wine specials for the day, with prices ranging from $9 to $19 a glass.
The excellent house-made pâté is bacon-enveloped and Madeira enlivened. Chunky with meat, mushrooms, and pistachios, these slices of pâté are generous. The plate is a feast for the eyes as well as the palate, with carefully arranged dollops of mustard and a clever criss-cross of cornichons. We are transported to Paris.
A selection of Wellfleet oysters, salty with Cape Cod brine, come with a duo of spicy Creole and tangy Mignonette sauces. So fresh! And so French.
Following Chef Oldham’s vow to offer new flavors, her beet salad contains two ingredients one doesn’t find often in a restaurant: red miner greens and flaxseed. Adding a slightly astringent flavor, and looking like a veggie from outer space, the red miner works well with the bold-flavored greens in the salad: the crisp frisée, radicccio, and endive. Dressed with a light flaxseed vinaigrette, this otherwise perfect salad could have used more beets to live up to its name.
We could not have visited Grapes on a Monday night without having the Monday Night Special roast chicken. This is true comfort food. The classically prepared bird is simply roasted and tender, with juicy light and dark meat. Served with pommes frites, this chicken will give you a reason to get out of the house and go out on a Monday night.
The fois gras is a complicated dish, glazed with honey and plated with pain d’epices and poached pears. Combining sweetness with the savory, the fois gras is certainly delicious. This is an entrée, but perhaps one could choose it to wrap up a meal, it is that sweet. A hazelnut crumble contributes visual interest; sculptural on the plate, it was, on its own, somewhat flavorless and over baked.
All of the pastas are house made. An alluring squid-ink fettuccine is rich with scallops, shrimp, and butter. This is a dish that we will come back for on
Chef Oldham prepares her own desserts. Her creamy cheesecake has a crust made with walnuts and butter, a welcome departure from the traditional graham cracker crust. Her super smooth pots de crème are perfection in a cup, with a delicate butterscotch flavor.
Grapes has a loyal following. Some guests visit up to four evenings a week. Many can be counted on showing up for Monday night roast chicken. There is a buzz about Grapes; this is what happens when you combine a thoughtful menu with an out-of-the ordinary wine selection. With a friendly bar and outdoor seating, this feels like home away from home. Grapes has a lot to offer Annapolitans who love good food, conviviality, and delicious wine.
Grapes Wine Bar of Annapolis
1410 Forest Drive
Annapolis, MD 21403
Hours of Operation
Monday–Thursday, 5:00 p.m.–9:00 p.m.
Friday, 4:00 p.m.–10:00 p.m.
Saturday, 11:30 a.m.–10:00 p.m.
Christine Fillat lives on the Magothy River and is an aficionado
of Chesapeake Bay cooking and living.
From Vol. 7, No. 3 2016
Annapolis Home Magazine