Iron and Wine
Columbia Bistro Very Deserving Of Its Flocking Crowds
Three years into its existence the Iron Bridge Wine Co. is still drawing the crowds. It's packed all the time and, in this case, crowds are on to something good.
Blink on Route 108 and you'll miss Iron Bridge's roadside country-store structure. Inside it's all timbered coziness, Tuscan color splashes, and sleek, black contemporary fixtures. A more recent expansion has added a fireplace lounge onto the main room, which comprises a proper wine store, a half-oval wine bar, and seating at both tables and comfy sofa-seating groups. It feels comfortable in here but well-tended and well-managed, too. Lights have been dimmed, music plays unobtrusively, and the staff is uniformly on point.
Iron Bridge trumpets its dedication to uncovering and stocking small-vintage and small-production wine selections, about 30 of which, on a given night, are offered by the glass. Iron Bridge also constructs a handful of stimulating wine flights, which on a recent visit included threesomes of Chardonnays, and Greek varietals, and, why the hell not, Beaujolais Nouveaux. Bottles served at the table are sold for just $10 above the store's retail prices, which appear to be just a dollar or two above those of warehouse stores. The overall approach to wine here is free of both condescension and idolatry; the wine is to be enjoyed but not worshipped. A small thing: The breadth of the at-table wine listing leaves no room for taste notes or potentially helpful ruminations about Iron Bridge's wine philosophy.
If all Iron Bridge served were Ripple, it would still be a drive-worthy destination. The kitchen focuses on small plates but several bona fide entrées--pointlessly referred to on the menu as "small plate entrées"--augment the offerings. The menu, which changes frequently, synchronizing with the seasons, comes across as sharp and focused but not gratuitously edgy. The food that showed up on a recent visit flaunted bright, clean flavors. Evidence of careful and patient preparatory work was manifest--something as simple as the slim slices of green scallion that had been judiciously sprinkled on top of sea scallops was a moment of pure restaurant pleasure, a sign that someone cared about the food.
A salad of Asian pear and arugula ($8) benefited likewise from the handsome julienning of crisp, clean fruit and what appeared to be a last-second fluffing up of fresh baby greens. Warmed goat cheese and sugared walnuts add appropriate notes of warmth and sweetness to the predominant sharp flavors. Every spoonful of a vermillion roasted pepper and tomato soup ($7) produced lingering pleasure, its ingredients resolving themselves into a lovely sum, lent just enough spike by a crab salsa garnish. It, like all of the food, appears aware of its surroundings. The food matches the room.
A refreshing, palate-arousing medley of roasted red and golden beets ($8) headlined a striking composed salad that also worked in crumbles of buttermilk blue cheese, pistachios, and orange supremes (pithed and pitted segments with membrane removed), all brightened by a honey-orange balsamic reduction. Until further notice, white truffle oil remains the go-to ingredient for upmarket macaroni-and-cheese dishes. Iron Bridge shakes this on, sure, but the heavy lifting of its version ($12) is done by the gorgeous bake-off of curvaceous handmade noodles, lump crabmeat, and a well-tempered Boursin cheese sauce.
This Tuscan spell was broken, agreeably, by three loosely packed Moroccan-spice meatballs ($8), served in a cumin tomato sauce, topped with a fresh slice of manchego cheese, and accompanied by warm slices of garlic pita bread--many spices at work here but all given room to play. Those sea scallops ($12) are crusted with coriander and served with the pretty scallions perched atop membranous slices of daikon radish laid in tiny beds of silky black trumpet mushrooms. Very smart cooking, very engaging--a sweet ginger chile sauce was a stirring final touch.
Everything about two entrées --a roasted salmon ($16) with broccolini, a celeriac and potato purée, and smoked tomato broth; and a bourbon-glazed flat-iron steak ($17) with orange sweet-potato mash, haricots verts, and chopped andouille sausage--helped move the ball forward. The beef and fish were full-flavored and well-treated, the sides added intensely warm and comforting flavor. Plates whirled around the table, forks flew.
The Achilles heel? Simple. As Yogi Berra said, nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded.