Monday, August 24, 2009

13.5% Wine Bar

Sorry about the sparse posting lately. I have been job hunting because the job market for my chosen field (education - have I ever mentioned that before?) is, well, a helluva lot sparser than I was ever led to believe it would be. Figures. So I have been more focused on sending out applications, both to use my current degree and my previous one. I'm a career changer. Great time to change, huh? At least I have some part-time work that seems relatively reliable, but until I find something to supplement it, I won't be eating out too much.

That is the attitude I took into the tail end of Baltimore Restaurant Week for dinner on a rain-soaked Saturday night. But as I said, times are tough and I can't really spring the $30 price tag right now. So I looked for a cheaper meal, and found it in Hampden, hon. I have been to many of the restaurants there, and they seem to fall into the general categories of "good but a little pricey," "good but overrated" and "not-so-good and overrated." Only a handful of Hampden restaurants and eateries are really in that "good and cheap" category, so long as you don't go crazy. I've been meaning to stop by 13.5%, the new wine bar on the Avenue, and food-wise it falls into that last category - "good and cheap so long as you don't go crazy."

13.5% has been open for almost two months now, and apparently they do some bang-up business throughout the week, even during this recession. It looks very upscale, and of course (being a wine bar) it seems that way, but as busy as the staff seem to be (especially around the kitchen), it is fairly casual in terms of its patrons. There is a large wall of wines to choose from in addition to 13.5%'s extensive wine selection. In addition, there is a fairly deep selection of beers and cocktails. Usually a beer person myself, I opted to start off my evening with a wine - it is a wine bar, after all. Just about any wine on their menu can be ordered by the glass or the bottle. If you aim to buy a bottle to take home, you get a discount off the bottle price! My glass of Prosecco cost me $7; the whole bottle would've run me about $25. Had I gotten a bottle and taken it home instead, I'd have been looking at prices I might find at the Wine Source down the street.

Food wise, 13.5% is an Italian small plates type of establishment. Again, it is easy to run up a big tab: an antipasto here, a panino there, a few bottles of wine and a dessert and you're looking at a $50 price tag. So you have to be careful, as I was. 13.5% has a hearty selection of appetizers, panini and small plates, with everything ranging from about $8 to $11. A few dishes that caught my attention, such as

  • the "Grilled Cheese of the Moment" panino ($8) that one could say is the panini version of a grilled cheese, using both domestic and imported cheeses;
  • the "Antipasti Plate" ($10) that had enough cured meats, olives and cheeses that I could have made a meal out of that;
  • the cheese cart that goes around to patrons, offering select cheeses to eat with your wine for $3.50 a piece, or 3 for $10 (if I remember correctly)
I settled for the dish that first brought me in out of the rain: the Spicy Napoleon ($9), which looked too interesting with its list of components: eggplant, roasted red peppers, zucchini and whipped potatoes with sriracha sauce mixed in, layered in between "pasta crisps" - pasta that is baked so that the edges become a little crispy, though soft in the middle. I had imagined it was just pasta dough fried or baked like crackers or papadums. In the midst of all the activity in the kitchen, my Spicy Napoleon emerged. I had commented that it looked too nice to eat, so I wasn't quite sure how to eat it. So I just dug in and ate it layer by layer. The potatoes were amazingly good, buttery but spicy and tangy. It might not be the best choice for someone who can't stand any heat at all, but I like heat, and I found it refreshing. The other veggies and the pasta were tasty as well, though I still liked those potatoes the best. It was a good choice.

Also a good choice was the slice of cake that the couple next to me had ordered. This cake ($6.50) was one of many that 13.5% orders from the Puffs & Pastries down the street. It looked so good that I had to order a piece myself. I was mistaken in thinking that the whipped cream all over it was actually frosting, but it was good all the same. I'm not quite sure what type of cake it was - it looked a little like a carrot cake but tasted more like some sort of spice cake. The eye-popping bunch of champagne grapes that came with it was a nice addition. I have to figure out where to find these, because I'm not a fan of grapes, but I liked these. I could eat these all day.

So with my Prosecco, my small plate and my cake, my grand total came to about $22 before tax & tip (about $24.50 after tax). That's still $8 less than the typical Baltimore Restaurant Week menu, and that includes a glass of wine! I still urge people to support Restaurant Week, but for those of us who can't indulge in it as often as we'd like, there are some nice options. You just have to make sure you budget your wallet. 13.5% is a good place to do that.

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