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Six Plates Wine Bar, Durham, NC

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So Durham's first wine bar has opened up shop and has been serving the public since last Thursday evening. I stopped in on this first evening of service to chat with Matthew and sample a couple plates. Generally, I came away impressed if not floored.

First, the food is quite good. The small plates are more like medium plates, and two easily make up a meal. My only criticisms on the savory front are the food may lack some soul and that it kind of took a while to come out.

The first issue isn't so much a complaint as an observation. This feels and tastes like "restaurant" food of the big city, blanket, New/Seasonal American variety. Interestingly, there aren't all that many places that cook this type of food in Durham, so in that regard the offerings are actually relatively unique. I appreciated unconventional touches like cinnamon dusted scallops and miso-braised collards. (I was less impressed with the pumpkin risotto that, while a rich, season-appropriate accompaniment, was too tight to be really called risotto.) Still, despite the overall quality, the food lacks a certain "hook" in the way Watts does updated North Carolinian, Piedmont does piedmont-inspired local cuisine, and Vin Rouge is staunchly French. I fully assume that any timing issues will be resolved as the restaurant comes into its own, as ,again, my visit was on its first official day of service. Still, if this place gets popular the kitchen may get overwhelmed.

I spoke with Matthew about the lack of tables in favor of MUCH more open space and couches/loungers. This is apparently a conscious effort but with food this appealing, it might systematically limit the number of customers he can serve. We'll have to see how this pans out.

The two paired wines I sampled were quite tasty but failed to really open my eyes. The white with the scallops was a rioja blanco. Lots of citrus, little bit of grass, some faint but grounding bitterness. The wine lacked some body/gravity and finish, however. The red to go with the sirloin--a syrah from Argentina, I believe--was really big and spicy if lacking in complexity. It veered perhaps too New World for my tastes, but worked very well with the sweet potato hash. I found this to be a better pairing, as the cinnamon in the scallop dish somewhat overpowered the white.

I look forward to eating my way through the menu and drinking through the wine list. I really appreciate what's going on here and hope I can get some wine education out of my ensuing visits.

This last point is more about the area than the bar itself. Due to the market, Six Plates can't really open up big wines for tasting and thus must stick with relatively inexpensive, by-the-glass selections. Even if these are well-selected, part of the appeal of a wine bar is being able to sample serious wines without needing to shell out for a full bottle. In this regard, Six Plates, by the mere virtue of being in Durham, can't deliver. I'd love to get into vertical and regional tasting flights but this isn't really possible. Just an observation...

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  1. I hadn't heard a thing about this place ... sounds at least worth trying (although I completely agree with you about the wine selection issue). Where is it?

    2 Replies
    1. re: LulusMom

      Erwin Terrace. Lower level, where Nosh and the new Brooklyn Pizzeria is. Our local blogging friends have also weighed in.

      1. re: BryanZ

        Thanks - I took a look at the website. It seems weird to me to have a wine bar that only has 6 of its wines by the glass, I have to say (which you've pretty much said yourself). still, its always nice to have new places in the area. Thanks for the heads up.

    2. I was a patron at Six Plates on the first Sat of business. I came away from the experience blown away. The food was delicious-Chicken Pot Pie was amazing-the breading was light, tasty, and melted in your mouth. The cheese plate was amazing too. I loved the lobster rolls. The wine was a treat too-I am not a wine aficionado, but the samplings were divine. I explained what I thought I liked and they delivered! The ambiance was unlike anything that I have experienced in the area-crystal chandeliers (not formal or tawdry), comfortable and stylish seating...just to mention a few details I noticed. With all three of these elements, (food, wine, and ambiance) you've got a winning package. I am taking some friends this weekend!!!

      1. Was back at Six Plates last night at around midnight. Six Plates is a great spot for serious, late-night food. As much as I enjoy Watts for its fried items, Six Plates is a more appealing option.

        For one, interesting crowd. Friends of Matthew's, Durham faux-hipsters, Duke girls in cocktail dresses, and me in my schlubby, post-service attire. Room had a nice vibe and subtle buzz though, so no complaints there.

        Had the oysters with yuzu granita and sriracha consomme. Not an exact description but close. A nice dish. 5 oysters for$9.50. I'm not complaining. Oysters were fresh if a bit flat inititally. Couple of chews brought out more salinity, and I was pleased. The potpie is actually pretty killer. The "filling" was used to be more brothy, as has been reported elsewhere, but has since been thickened. I thought it needed salt, but it was filling but not too creamy. The puff on top is really nice, a super crispy, light pastry thing. On top of that is a salty chanterelle, infused with either truffle salt or oil, couldn't tell which.

        Drank a nice glass of red and was out of there in about 25 minutes. Perfect.

        Matthew is addressing the only 6 glasses per night by switching out the offerings nearly everyday. Not a bad compromise, I suppose, but this requires that one make frequent visits as opposed to trying many things at once.

        2 Replies
        1. re: BryanZ

          Wow - gotta try it. I should have known about this before last night when I went out for appetizer-hopping with my good bud Durhamois. We started at Watts - it was fine - fried green tomatoes, kinda underdone and good chicken livers 'n onions, but nothing to write home about, truly. This was my second visit and my friend's first and we thought it was just okay - fun vibe, though. Then we went to Magnolia Grill for the first time in a long time. Super yummy apps for about the same price as Watts and the food was seriously more interesting. People - am I missing something at Watts?? - At Magnolia - a yummy, light grits souffle-like item and blackened redfish with greens and lardons - delicioso. Nice waiter - and cute - but he dropped the "good choice" bomb, which for some reason I'm seriously allergic to. Still not nearly as bad as "excellent choice, ma'am." We stopped by Piedmont - which I generally like, but it was a little deadish, but since we were on a bit of a people-watching mission, we walked to Rue Cler, where we split some moules frites, sauteed greens and asparagus. The server was great - laid back, but very helpful. The food was so simple, but so good. Next time Six Plates will be on our route for sure.

          1. re: suse

            Sounds like a great night. But as far as Watts goes, you're not the first person I've heard express that opinion. I haven't been yet but I asked an acquaintance who's been there and whose opinion I respect and she said just about the same as you. She wanted to give Watts a second chance because she expected more based on what she'd heard.

            As to Magnolia, I've always thought that they've been underappreciated on this site. I agree with you entirely - I could eat my way from one end of their menu to the other, something I can rarely say at most restaurants.

        2. I've been to this place several times now in the past few weeks. I like it a lot. My two main complaints are the somewhat limited by the glass list and a bit of a penchant for underseasoning. Other than that, this place is my late-night go-to, with the kitchen open until 2 am! Love that. Menu changes frequently enough. I like the comfort food dishes more than the Asian fusion ones, but it's generally all pretty solid.

          Wine tastings start soon supposedly. Will be interesting to see how that develops.

          2 Replies
          1. re: BryanZ

            We went to Six Plates a couple of months ago and it was very good. We went back last night and it was even better. I started with the chilled pineapple soup. Now, you must understand that when we eat out I frequently try something I've never had. Sometimes what I've gotten is OK but not something I desire to have again, sometimes good enough to consider having again, and sometimes so good that I definitely would have it again. The soup is a have it again--a taste of pineapple but with other ingredients that balanced the sweetness of the pineapple to give it a complex flavor. My second dish was the charcuterie plate, the best I've ever had--a mild and a strong salami, chorizo, and pate, with Dijon mustard and ligonberry sauce as accompaniments. The wines recommended for each plate were great matches. Highly recommended.

            1. re: karrlink

              I was at Six Plates over the weekend and had a pretty good experience. I'd say the important thing to know here is that it's primarily a bar (whereas most "wine bars" these days are full-strength restaurants). No waiters, no table service, order at the bar, limited-but-tasty menu.

              The spring rolls and croquettes were really good. The lamb chops were pretty good, the lamb sloppy joes were ok. The flatbread du jour was awful, unfortunately. Parts were badly burned, all was pretty dry. I try to avoid blowing things out of proportion, so given that everything else that came out of the kitchen was pretty good I have to think this was an anomaly.

              I didn't think the wine selection was all that great, honestly (by the glass, anyway). Several of the wines are widely available in retail stores in this region, for around $10/bottle, so paying the per-glass price wasn't so great. But that said, it was also an inexpensive list. The most expensive glass I saw was $8.

              I had a good experience and would definitely go back.

          2. Love the poetic review. My husband and I went last week and ordered all six plates of the day plus the flat bread. We did NOT have room for dessert!! the food was great - i wish i had a drink with it - my husband had a CHIMAY which went great with all the dishes - our favorite was the whole wheat shrimp tempura. But seriously - all of the dishes were fantastic. We had a very nice time, enjoyed the atmosphere - and will go back (on a weekend when we can drink and have a DD with us!)

            1 Reply
            1. re: heidiandbrian

              The ambiance at 6 Plates is wonderful, the wine is great and most of the food is quite good. We have eaten there a couple of times and they do well with most everthing but seem to be challenged by seafood. We were there last night and we loved the lamby joes, cheese plate, chicken pot pie and a yummy beef with chocolate of all things. We did not love the tuna as it was over cooked. The last time we were there we order the raw tuna dish and it was served in big chucks and just did not taste fresh. They always seem to overcook the shrimp as well. So my advice, just skip the seafod ;-)