Cork Wine Bar opened in October of last year, a cozy sliver in the heart of downtown Ferguson. It looks much like any other wine bar: There is the bar, of course, a banquette along one wall and a few high-top tables. Wine bottles are displayed on a metal rack behind the bar, but the wines I sampled — even the reds — were served at proper temperature.
The menu consists of hot and cold "plates." Before you drive an hors d'oeurve fork into your heart, know that the menu doesn't specify these as small plates and that the dishes I sampled were, in fact, portioned more like entrées than appetizers.
Which is not to say the menu avoids recent trends. It offers flatbread pizzas and sliders, but both are pretty good. The sliders, three to an order, are an upscale take on the bacon cheeseburger, each miniature patty topped with fresh mozzarella and prosciutto as well as tomato, arugula, mustard and basil pesto. As a general rule, I avoid sliders mainly because the smaller size lends itself to overcooking. These were medium well — I wasn't asked my temperature preference — but still juicy.
The "White Pizza" is, true to its name, fairly colorless: chicken, artichoke hearts, garlic and Gruyère take up much of the space, with tomatoes and diced prosciutto giving it a few spots of color. Fortunately the flavor combination works, and the crust, speckled with herbs, has a nice lightness of body and flavor.
Corn fritters have an unexpected kick of spice beneath their mild sweetness. These are served with a roasted-tomato sauce for dipping; its smoky flavor, something like ancho chile, provides a strong complement.
The only misfire I encountered was the tuna panzanella, a variation on the classic bread salad of Tuscany. Here a generous serving of tuna is seared rare (or longer, if you prefer, though you shouldn't), sliced and then arranged around a salad of croutons, white beans and vegetables. Though this pairing of clean, simple flavors would seem ideal in theory, in practice they don't mesh. I blame the tuna, which struck me as less sweet (that is, more fishy) than it should be.
The wine list covers the major varietals and regions; a representative of most categories is available as a three- or six-ounce pour. Each wine is accompanied by brief tasting notes — an imperfect science, to be sure. I'd prefer that those who run a wine bar engage the customer in conversation, to interest them in the wines that they themselves are passionate about. At Cork, those curious about wine might still feel intimidated by the subject, worried that if their impressions of the wine don't match those tasting notes, they have somehow failed.
It is no coincidence that the key scene in Sideways has Miles describing, in exquisite detail, why he loves pinot noir. If nothing else, it helps him get the girl.
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