Like most kids, I used to get a kick out of those self-serve soda fountains at family restaurants. The notion that you could press a button and be in control of your own sugary destiny was an attraction too compelling to ignore.
My tastes have changed, admittedly, but my delight in high-tech gadgetry has never been more potent. So imagine my glee when I first laid eyes on the Enomatic system at 87 West 2. This gleaming machine marries two of my favorite things, technology and wine, into one functional and futuristic contraption. It's as if Bender from Futurama finally settled down with a real job.
At its most basic, the Enomatic is a wine storing and dispensing device. To use it, guests stick a preloaded smart card into a slot, place their glass beneath one of the many nozzles, press a button and watch as the magic happens. More graceful than the finest sommelier, the machine metes out a perfect two-ounce pour with nary a dribble.
When 87 West opened in Crocker Park this past winter, it became the first establishment in Ohio to feature the self-serve appliance.
Run by Gamekeeper's Hospitality, 87 West 2 extends the restaurant group's holdings, which include Gamekeeper's Taverne, Welshfield Inn and the original 87 West, to the far-west suburbs. Set in a stand-alone building well off the center's Main Street, the wine bar offers a welcome escape from the lifestyle center's occasional youthful exuberance. Modern, with a decidedly California feel, the room boasts a barrel-vaulted ceiling, floor-to-ceiling windows and low-slung tables, chairs and couches. A double-sided stone fireplace warms both inside and out.
Unlike 87 West, junior has a full-scale kitchen, giving chef Jonathan Guest the room to move well beyond the ubiquitous cheese and charcuterie. Broken down into categories of "little, big and after-hours teases," the menu is built around an appealing roster of small and not-so-small plates. Sure, there's a cheese plate ($15), outfitted with a nice assortment of sheep- and cow's-milk varieties, fresh and preserved fruit and wafer-thin sesame crisps. But the kitchen also turns out the most unbelievable gaufrettes ($4.50), delicate waffle-cut french fries served warm and crisp with malt-vinegar aioli.
Here lies the beauty of the Enomatic. Moving from dish to dish, as we are wont to do, is a challenge when it comes to wine-pairing. Conventional wisdom dictates planning a meal around a bottle or gliding from glass to glass. With a well-stocked "Enocard," diners can swap wines as frequently as they do silverware, ensuring a proper fit with each and every course. In preparation for our cheese plate, we visited the white-wine Eno, settling on a King Estate pinot gris ($3.50) and St. Innocent chardonnay ($4.50). When it came time to enjoy a Tuscan pulled-chicken melt ($9.50), a pitch-perfect sandwich layered with white-meat chicken, roasted tomatoes and fontina cheese, we graduated to an earthy shiraz.
Astute wine fans who do the math will quickly realize that wine from the Eno is no bargain. But the machine can save you money by allowing you to try a wine before you invest in a whole bottle. Always wanted to sample one of those outrageous (and outrageously priced) boutique Napa cabs? Here you can, without plunking down a car payment for the privilege.
If you need assistance selecting a wine, help is never far away. In fact, if you need assistance of any kind, you will more than likely find it in spades. Our server patiently trailed us from one locale to another until we finally settled in front of the fireplace, which he ignited just for us. When deciding on a chardonnay, the manager was able to state how many months a particular wine aged in oak. Impressive.
Equally impressive is the food. Wine-bar food is often like that bowl of stale bar nuts: You eat it because it's there. Not so here, where small plates pack a big punch. Artistically plated and just plain fun to eat, diminutive crabmeat tacos ($10) are nestled in tiny hillocks of guacamole. The crispy little shells are filled to the rim with sweet lump crab. A rectangular flatbread pizza ($10.50) comes topped with zesty meat, smoky gouda, skunky arugula and spicy sriracha. (Try pairing a wine with that!) Everything, from our sandwich to the pizza, is cut down to appropriate finger-food portions.
Realizing that my card contained less credit than the lowest-priced pour, I assumed it was worthless. Hopeful, I jammed it in, placed my glass below a nozzle and pressed the button. Imagine my glee when Bender graced my glass with about an ounce of sweet, sweet nectar. Felt like a kid again.