I have arrived at Sip Wine from the south. Behind me wend the roads that led through Alpharetta and Roswell neighborhoods. Across the street lies the clear-cut acreage for a subdivision where homes may or may not one day surround the empty cul de sacs. Next to that is a kind of New Urbanist complex with a tavern and shops on the bottom floor of blocky brick buildings. And just beyond that lies the quaint intersection of streets that comprise downtown Crabapple.
Had I come from the north, the journey would have taken me through farms and horse pasture. I would have turned a corner and arrived at a country crossroads trying mightily to establish itself as a suburban town. In other words, I’ve found the invisible boundary of this amorphous thing we call greater Atlanta.
But here’s the good news: Whatever direction you come from, Sip Wine proves itself to be the kind of place that helps define its neighborhood. If you’ve ever been to a local branch of the Grape then, well, it’s that: A wine shop. A wine bar. A menu of various small plates that pass themselves off as “tapas.” Even the dining room — stacked-stone walls; colorful, blown-glass pendant lights; open kitchen with a dining bar — has that same aura of slick urbanity.
I like Sip Wine better than other local wine bars for a number of reasons. For starters, chef Daniel Massie, a young Culinary Institute of America grad, cooks with more ambition and casts a wider culinary net than others have.
No red-grape-and-plastic-Brie platters for this guy, but rather composed bites of wild striped bass, house-smoked salmon, lamb loin and Thai nam sod salad. He doesn’t pull it all off — some of the dishes, in fact, taste like cooking school projects — but he makes you want to try more and more.
Then there’s the superior wine program. Sip pours 50 wines by the glass, half-glass or one-ounce sip, including many heavy-hitters. Thanks to the Enomatic wine preservation system, you can whet your wine hole with, say, a $4.90 sip of L’Arco Amarone della Valpolicella that retails for $100. Or maybe a Prunotto Barolo ($3.65 for a sip) or a Hubert Lamy Puligny-Montrachet ($3.50 a sip). More than 150 other bottles are in the shop, and if you want to crack one of those in-house, the price is only $10 above retail.
Interested? Good, then let me help you find something to eat. There’s some wit on the list of more than two dozen plates. Diced watermelon salad ($7) with toasted almond slivers and feta cheese gets a sharp edge from its white balsamic vinaigrette, so you keep taking bite after sweet-sour-crunchy-nutty bite. Ditto the diced beet salad ($5 at lunch) with goat cheese crumbles and herbal slips of mint in a well-balanced orange marmalade vinaigrette.
And then comes the polar opposite — a leek and prosciutto risotto ($8) that is the apotheosis of goo. Is it proper risotto? No. Is it an incredibly rich and irresistible mush studded with tiny pops of cured ham that tastes so, so good with a full pour of Gaba do Xil Godello ($8.30), a funky Spanish white? Yes, indeedy.
I’ve learned to avoid the composed dishes that sound like mini-entrees. Grilled wild striped bass with leek-fennel gratin and lemon beurre blanc ($10) seems so damp and oozy compared to the tender moules marienière ($8) — a huge serving in a butter-enriched shellfish liquor. Raw-in-the-center beef tenderloin ($11) on a square of mushroom bread pudding makes me feel like I’m at a wedding. But a poblano chile relleno stuffed with smoked chicken and smoked gouda ($5 at lunch) merits eating clean to the stem, then running your finger through the roasted tomato cream sauce.
It can be hard to tell what will be good and what won’t. Jumbo shrimp ($9) — highly recommended by our waitress — come swathed in thick, hard bacon shards that hang free like a bad skin graft. But butternut squash ravioli with toasted walnut cream ($5 at lunch), supple and suave, beats versions of this now-popular dish at many an Italian restaurant. It’s best to go at lunch where, as you may have noticed from this review, most items come at the value price of two dishes for $10 — a huge bargain.
I found that service turns from quick and efficient when you first sit down to almost nonexistent. If you want serving spoons or water or want to see some of your dirty plates disappear — well, raise your hand. (My dad would’ve stood up and started shouting “Miss! Miss!” to my undying mortification.) Also, don’t expect anyone to notice that you haven’t eaten the perfectly raw Kobe beef sliders ($9) you pushed to the side. The front of the house needs work.
As for the back of the house, Chef Massie might want to edit his menu and spend a little more time training his cooks to make sure the food comes out as intended.
But he does have a good sense of how to feed his guests. Whether they are exurbanites or suburbanites, they are all looking for the kind of urban experience that Sip Wine can deliver.SIP WINE 12635 Crabapple Road, Milton; 770-475-7121 Food: Moderate portions of food with an international bent Service: Friendly but inattentive. Needs work Best dishes: Watermelon salad with feta and almonds, leek and prosciutto risotto, moules marienière, smoked chicken stuffed poblano Vegetarian selections: The usual — salads and pasta Price range: $$-$$$ Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover Hours: Lunch 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., Monday-Friday; dinner 5:30-9:30 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, and 5:30-11 p.m., Friday-Saturday Children: Older kids who can keep to themselves in an adult environment Parking: In attached lot Reservations: No Wheelchair access: Yes Smoking: No Noise level: Moderate Patio: Yes Takeout: Yes