Barrel of Style

Mercy: It's not just a wine bar. It's a lifestyle accoutrement.

Wine bars and Dallas don't mix well, at least not as seamlessly as silicone and trial lawyers. A sweep through Dallas' wine-bar experiments--Tony's, Cork, Cru, the flight deck near the vestibule in Nick & Sam's--reveals half-hearted execution or an emphasis on wine as fashion accessory.

Maybe that's why Mercy is in Addison. Yet in true Dallas fashion, Mercy isn't a wine bar fabricated in reverence to dirt, must, yeast and Frenchie barrels. It's more. It's a lifestyle link. "This is really another piece of this whole lifestyle segment that I'm beginning to build in the variety of companies that I have," says Mercy creator Glen Agritelley, who fancies himself a "lifestyle expert."

A former Microsoft executive and one-time computer retailer when nameplates like Osborn and Altair were flung around like Dell is today, Agritelley re-entered entrepreneurial adventurism when he purchased the TBarM Racquet Club in 1997 with the goal of making his club experience "the best part of the members' day." In 2001, he picked up the upscale clothier Sebastian's Closet after realizing his club members were clients or potential clients of this chichi duds hut. Synergy was what this was called in the days of Gordon Gecko.

His customers also were concerned about wine, Agritelley noticed. Hence Mercy, named for an utterance in the Roy Orbison tune "Pretty Woman" and not necessarily the compassion one might have on those who have endured a Dallas wine-bar crawl.

For the most part, Mercy works. Not necessarily by toning down the trendy trappings that so many Dallas wine-bar efforts seem to choke on--there is plenty of that here--but by beefing up the wine program, away from pretension.

There aren't many typical "look at me" swigs on the list à la Silver Oak and Jordan. Mercifully, the generous by-the-glass list isn't sloshing in a swamp of chardonnay and merlot, either. But the list lacks depth. There are color maps and tasting phrases included (bizarrely, the beer list contains more comprehensive tasting notes than the wine, though the Bud and Bud Light entries are mercifully mute), but regional and appellation information is incomplete or absent. Brief varietal information is virtually nonexistent. Blurbs on what each region is most famous for are absent as well.

Wines from some of the most exciting and underappreciated regions and grapes are skeletal: three American pinot noirs, a trio of wines each from Alsace and New Zealand (inexplicably, the latter includes no sauvignon blanc, though it does offer a pinot noir), a single rosé and no chablis (ouch).

On the plus side, Mercy has a swell wine and food pairing program that invites freewheeling experimentation. For $30 you can choose three food items from a grouping of soups, salads, plates and desserts, each with a suggested 3-ounce glass of wine. Or you can select your own pours.

And most of the food selections are stellar, or very nearly, with just a couple of stumbles. Roasted garlic bread soup with tomato compote is like silk varnish on the tongue: smooth, rich and cleanly savory. Monkfish and crawfish ragout, brandade style (originally a pounded mixture of salted fish, olive oil, garlic, milk and cream that originated in Provence), was served on a slice of bread with potato cubes. Though the monkfish was sparse and the mix was a little dry, it was exceptionally tasty.

As was the seared-scallop celery-root salad with watercress, though the application of scallop was a little stingy. Tuna confit salad with pickled vegetables in a delicious buttermilk dressing was plagued by browning greens and dry, mealy chunks of tuna.

Perhaps the most compelling and challenging mix-and-match is the trio of oyster shooters, little nude shellfish plunged into vials and pickled in fluids: apple cider mignonette (ground white peppercorns, I think), cucumber horseradish and smoked tomato. All were unexpected and delicious.

Wine flight tastes are served in 6-ounce crystal carafes dangled from custom-hewn iron apparatuses crafted by a former Chicago ironworker.

Yet despite such earthiness, the atmosphere is intensively loungey, with lots of sofas, tuft seating that doubles as serving tables (with wine and food balanced on large metal trays), sheer draperies, faux villa windows and a curvaceous granite bar. Sonic wallpaper, which runs from Elvis and Roy Orbison to Natalie Merchant, is suitably subdued. But keeping with current lounge trends, Mercy is impossibly dark. A wine bar that arms servers with flashlights so patrons can read the friggin' wine list is committed far more to trendy atmospherics than wine sensuality and experimentation. Agritelley says he's trying to fuse an Old World feel with modern nuances, and with curvy iron appointments and a replica of an unearthed Pompeii fresco on one wall, he mostly succeeds. But it would be doubly good if the atmosphere were secondary to the wine. But Mercy is young. And it's the best wine bar we have so far. So hope springs.

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Mercy Wine Bar

5100 Belt Line Rd.
Dallas, TX 75254


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