Noshing around the world

Barcelona Tapas Bar offers eclectic, if mediocre, grazing

This is why The Grape Escape, a new wine bar in Fort Worth's Sundance Square, is such a terrific place to swirl, gurgle, and spit everything from piquant Sauvignon Blancs to rich dessert wines: It seems to intuitively take into account the clumsiness with which many of us approach wine (ever stain the tip of your nose while sampling a Cabernet bouquet?). Launched by Michel Baudouin, owner of Le Chardonnay, which closed in Dallas after only 18 or so months and in Fort Worth after 11 years, The Grape Escape has an ingenious tasting protocol. Wines are divided into 21 "flights" and can be ordered by the bottle, the glass, the half-glass, or in flight groupings. The latter actually offers the most room for experimentation, because you get a selection of three to five 1.5-ounce pours in a particular category for a set price ($5-$29).

They're served on a place mat with markings for each wine and space for taking notes. So you might order, for example, a flight of white Burgundies and compare and contrast them with California Chardonnays. You could do the same with Pinot Noirs and red Burgundies. Or you could order a flight of Merlots from all over the world, great Cabernets from California (1994 Dominus), great Chateaux of Bordeaux (1982 Chateau Palmer), even a selection of sherrys from Spain.

And the list is continually in flux, so it's possible to sample a few wines on one visit and return a week later to discover a completely different set of flight constructions. To bring out the best in the wines, The Grape Escape has a menu that includes such things as cheeses (Roquefort, Texas goat, Stilton, Manchego, and Comte), pates, caviar (beluga and osetra), and pizzas with wine pairing suggestions. But while the wine selection and organization was first-rate, the food had some solid hits and severe misses. Top scores go to the country pate, a combination of pork and veal that was firm and chewy with lots of rich flavor. The cap d'ail, a head of fresh garlic sprinkled with olive oil and herbs and baked in parchment with a fresh tomato, was perfectly done with sweet, nutty garlic and juicy, rich tomatoes. A holdover from Le Chardonnay and the last food you'd think to pair with wine, the "really French fries" speckled with herbes de Provence, were light and flavorful without the least hint of grease.

The salmon carpaccio, however, was a disappointment with fish that was dry, stringy, and sliced much too thick, while the fried capers were hard and possessed little flavor. Flirting dangerously with the pathetic were the six-inch pizzas. Our "divine" pizza with smoked prosciutto and duck confit with Roquefort cheese was a dry mix of meat plopped on a spongy whole wheat crust with no sauce of any kind and tiny bubbling blobs of cheese. This is pizza? The creme brulee was a soup topped with a burnt-sugar crust in an edible cookie crust that we thought was plastic. Oh my.

The Grape Escape is a tiny, casual space with bright orange walls and flat black accents, including ceiling ductwork and a black string bass hanging on one wall. The bar top is an unusual creation--poured concrete stained in a red-orange sunburst. Decibel levels tend to get unbearably high when crowds move in, so the best time to come for serious tasting is on weekdays.

Although it needs to tighten up its food a bit, The Grape Escape is unquestionably one of the best wine bars in the nation. Look for a Dallas version to open some time after the first of the year. Maybe here they'll get the wherewithal to offer a vertical flight of MD 20/20.

Barcelona Tapas Bar. 2100 Greenville Avenue. (214) 826-8600. Open daily 5:30 p.m.-2 a.m.

The Grape Escape Wine Bar. 500 Commerce, Fort Worth. (817) 336-9463. Open Monday 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Tuesday-Thursday 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m.-midnight. Closed Sunday.

Barcelona Tapas Bar:
Marinated olives $1.95
Cheese & fruit plate $3.95
Mediterranean plate $4.95
Sizzling garlic shrimp $4.95
Buffalo burger $4.75

The Grape Escape:
America's Chardonnay Flight $8.46
The Cabernet Escape Flight $12.38
Country pate $4.95
Cap d'ail $3.95
Divine pizza $7.95

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