It shifts a diner's equilibrium to walk into a new restaurant that's taken over the space of an old, familiar haunt.
So it was when I visited Wolf Peach, the restaurant that opened early this month in the former Roots space, to gather a first impression.
Oh, the bones were familiar - same contemporary building, same dramatic view of the downtown skyline from this perch in Brewers Hill. Some familiar faces, too.
But Wolf Peach is its own restaurant, as it should be. It's not trying to imitate Roots. That's good; to do so would have felt false. Roots, which closed in September, was chef-owner John Raymond's baby, his own expression of fine dining that incorporated ingredients grown on his farm.
Wolf Peach - named for an early European term for the tomato - is a more casual, rustic restaurant in food and demeanor, though that's not to say it doesn't have style and a certain grace.
Inside, it's a mix of the handcrafted and the fancy: bare wooden tables and crystal chandeliers. (If the scent of oil-rubbed wood reminds you of the Iron Horse Hotel, recall that Tim Dixon owns both the hotel and Wolf Peach.)
It's a comfortable restaurant, but on a weekend night with a full main dining room and lower-level bar, it would be fair to put the sound at "din." It's a lively scene, but one companion seated farthest from the server missed some of what she said.
The drinks list had interesting wines by the bottle, more than a dozen by the glass, a couple of dozen craft beers and cocktails, some more summery than you would expect in November. With one drinks list dispensed for a table of four, it was awhile before everyone had a chance to digest this menu. More efficient would be giving everyone a list, or putting the beers, wines by the glass and cocktails on the blank back of the dinner menu.
Instead of the traditional appetizers-entrées format, that dinner menu breaks most of the offerings into vegetables, fish and meat, with spreads, pizzas, cheese and charcuterie also listed. Eat lightly, or eat heartily; the menu spans kale salad to rib-eye steak.
If you're sharing plates, which the restaurant encourages, guests will want to order a little at a time, as they do at tapas restaurants like La Merenda. Or if you want to eat in courses, I wouldn't order everything at once.
That's because Wolf Peach practices come viene service, Italian for "as it comes." Order all those plates at once, and they could arrive in rapid-fire succession.
So we started slowly, nibbling on kale preserves ($6), a tangy-sweet spread in a flip-top Mason jar served with warm bread.
Tuna conserva ($10) - fresh tuna poached and preserved in olive oil - fairly shocked with its silky, luscious quality; it's like the foie of fish. But it needed more salt or more time packed in the oil with seasonings and aromatics; the fish's flavor was flat on its own. Shavings of celery, thin slices of apple, good olive oil, grilled bread and terrific charred, pickled shishito peppers helped it along.
Pizzas here are Neapolitan-style - sized for one-ish or shareable as an appetizer for a table. Wolf Peach's pizza, baked in the newly installed wood-fire oven, isn't quite like any of the others around town. Crisp crust yielded to a feathery light, flavorful interior around the pie's rim; it's such a pleasure when the crust battles for attention with the toppings (in this case, sopressata, ricotta salata and rapini, $13). I've got to say, I love that crust.
Lest you think the food is all Italian, pierogis ($14) appear on the menu. They're potato-filled and served with charred savoy cabbage, perked up with caraway vinaigrette and topped with a dollop of crème fraîche; good, except that the pierogi dough was too thick.
Chicken paprikash ($23) isn't served as the usual, homey braised dish. Instead, the chicken quarter is served all crisped-skin and juicy-meat; it's on paprika-rich sauce that's thick with tiny, tender dumplings and poblano peppers, and with a killer house-made lamb sausage, fat and juicy and spicy. Moroccan merguez, it turns out, plays exceedingly well with Hungarian paprikash. Now, this is a dish for winter.
The dessert menu offers sweets out of the norm. Cherry crostata ($9) - abundant sour cherries on a classic short crust, topped with a tiny chocolate panna cotta and vanilla ice cream, with a drizzle of the grape syrup saba - was a rewarding choice. The dessert can stand without the unrelated garnish of fresh berries.
Wolf Peach intrigues me. I like the tone of this casual menu by chef Daniel Jacob; it's appealing and interesting, not quite like any other in town, with much of it at prices that allow more than an occasional visit. Let's see how this young restaurant develops.
Menu Click Here For PDF