Happy Place: Tastes Wine Bar and Bistro, 1033 East Seventeenth Avenue, 303-459-2311
The Hours: Daily from 4:30 to 6 p.m.
The Deals: $5-7 wines by the glass; $3-7 beers; $5-7 specialty cocktails; $3 small plates; $7 shrimp cocktail.
Were we happy? Flip the page to find out.
The Digs: Seventeenth Avenue is one of our favorite streets on which to stop for wine and snacks. There's a calming air to Uptown, and although you've walked in to wherever you're going from a street where cars whiz by at all hours, the establishments along that stretch of pavement permeate with a serene sophistication. Except for Tastes, which opened in 2006. The room holds enormous potential, but the decor feels really outdated, as though the design plan was made for a bistro in the mid-90s. With different furniture, the room might feel friendlier, but as it stands, it comes across as superficial and insincere.
Still, there are a few things we like about this joint. The patio is superb, boasting a small fire pit, and, in the summertime, tables that are shaded from the blazing sun. In the wintertime, the wine bar thankfully cranks up the heat, obviously recognizing that there's nothing worse than swilling wine in a drafty bar; it's a hospitality perk that's harder to find than you'd expect.
The Verdict: On a dull, gray afternoon, we found ourselves among the crowd who had gathered at Tastes to blow off the work week. We were up for anything, and our server immediately opened the menu to the happy hour selection, which really isn't a menu so much as it is a chart of food and beverage selections. Figuring it out isn't rocket science, but we found it rather bizarre and somewhat annoying. We started off with the Belgian curry meatballs and began to peruse our drink options.
In the middle of what's been a bone-chilling winter, we've found ourselves longing for warm drinks instead of cocktail glasses filled with ice cubes. The problem, though, is that it's difficult to find a decent, hot, boozy beverage that isn't primarily based on some sort of pansy liqueur. Which is precisely why we were so excited to see that Tastes offered glüwein on its happy hour menu. Hot spiced red wine, often blended with brandy or whiskey, will warm your tummy like no other -- and Tastes has a pot of it simmering for five bucks a glass. The only bummer? The orange slice that was served atop our mug looked like it had been sitting in the fruit tray for days.
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The Belgian curry meatballs weren't awful, but they weren't particularly great, either. They're a decent, hearty snack, but they lacked the savory complexity we've come to expect. Our next nosh was the happy hour cheese plate, which, said our server, was rum-raisin goat cheese served with walnuts and artisan bread, a prospect that sounded good. The cheese plate arrived during a heated political discussion, but the first bite stopped us dead in our tracks. We both grimaced as though something had suddenly gone horribly wrong -- and it had. The rum raisin chevre was bad -- not "spoiled" bad, but "Did-anyone-in-the-kitchen-taste-this?" bad. The rum hadn't been cooked off enough, which gave the entire dish a harsh, astringent finish. It overpowered the sweetness of the raisins, the creaminess of the cheese, and once spread on the bread -- which was painfully dry -- the combination took on an offensive texture.
Tastes is located in a fantastic little neighborhood, and there's one on Tennyson Street, too, in an equally prime location. The beverage selections, especially for happy hour, are diverse and appealing. And while the service can be slow, the staff is hospitable and friendly. But throughout most of our experience at Tastes, we found ourselves disappointed. The sentiment of "this could be so much better if..." was echoed over and over. We wanted desperately to like Tastes, but even a belly full of warm wine couldn't convince us to add this to our list of places we'd like to visit again.
Overall Grade: C