Bistro Bliss

Robin Davis

The holidays aren't just about parties at home. We also need places for those celebratory lunches: gift exchanges with the book club, office parties, intimate get-togethers with friends we just want to visit.

Enter The Wine Bistro in Upper Arlington, a rustic-chic restaurant and wine bar. The Old World charm of a French chateau is evident: The walls are painted a muted muddy brown and Bordeaux red, lit by an assortment of hanging lights, from simple bulbs to wood-and-burlap shades. Wooden shelves hold an assortment of wine along the back wall, which work both functionally for storing the wine as well as adding to its ambience. (Customers can select a bottle to take home, or for an $8 corkage fee, enjoy it at the bar or with food in the dining room.)

The space is divided into two distinct areas. In the bar, high tables and bar-height chairs, along with a handsome wooden bar, offer seating for both drinks and food. In the main dining room, mix-and-matched chairs-some with wire backs and seat cushions, others richly upholstered-pull up to wooden tables.

For more formal affairs, diners can reserve the private dining room, dramatically draped in luxurious fabrics over a long wooden farm-style table.

The menu runs the gamut from appetizers and cheese plates to baguette sandwiches and full-size pasta dishes.

Start the meal with Scallop Lollipops ($10): lightly seared scallops with a dusting of Cajun spices set atop a swirl of soy-citrus glaze and skewered for easy fork-free eating. Lighter starters include a mix of Warm Olives ($6) or a bowl of Spicy Toasted Mixed Nuts ($5).

Move on to salads, which are available in small and main-course sizes. The Winery Salad ($5, $10) features mixed greens with slices of apple, dried cherries, a few crumbles of creamy blue cheese and delicious candied pecans. The Champagne Chicken salad ($6, $12) works particularly well as an entrée with grilled chicken and fresh berries served over baby greens with a Champagne vinaigrette.

The Wine Bistro is known for its meatballs, and they are available in many executions: with marinara sauce as an appetizer ($8), in a toasted baguette with mozzarella and provolone ($10), sliced on flatbread ($13), or as a main course portion of spaghetti with marinara ($13) or pomodoro sauce ($11, or $15 with a meatball). The meatballs feature veal so finely ground it's almost silky in texture.

The oblong-shaped flatbreads served from a pizza peel are big enough for larger parties to split as an appetizer. Their cracker-crunchy crust includes toppings from the expected pepperoni ($12) or sausage ($13) to more gourmet curried shrimp and mango ($14).

Another bonus especially good for lunch: guests can create combinations of soups, salads, flatbreads or wraps for $10.

As the name implies, The Wine Bistro specializes in wines. Customers can opt for a glass or splurge on whole bottles from the around-the-world selection sold at state minimum prices. Those who don't finish the bottle can have it recorked for the trip home.

For dessert, don't pass up the Triple Chocolate Pot de Crème ($5), a dense, creamy chocolate pudding with a star of piped whipped cream and garnished with a sliced strawberry.

Robin Davis is food editor at The Columbus Dispatch.

Photos by: Will Shilling