Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Forge & Vine: Groton's New Culinary Destination

Several of my friends and relatives who live in the Groton area have complained about the scarcity of good restaurants in the area. Fortunately for them, a new restaurant, Forge & Vine, opened last October and it's a worthy culinary destination. It's been getting some raves and I was recently invited, as a media guest, to check out the restaurant and its intriguing wine list. I'll definitely return on my own as well, to enjoy more of their menu.

Forge & Vine sits behind The Groton Inn, a new luxury hotel which is situated on a historic spot. A hostelry was established on this site around 1678 and it hosted a number of Colonial era luminaries, such as Paul Revere. In 2011, the inn burnt to the ground but a new hotel was eventually constructed and it opened last May. The restaurant is located on the site of the original inn's blacksmith shop.

The restaurant has about 156 seats,  a 26-seat bar, a four-season outdoor patio a private dining room seating up to 20. They have an open kitchen, showcasing their eight-foot wood-fired grill, and we were seated not far from the grill. The restaurant possesses a casual ambiance, fine for a romantic date or a night out with friends. On a Friday evening, the restaurant was packed and a relative mentioned visiting on another occasion when there was a 2 1/2 hour wait on a weekend night. If you want a table on weekends, you definitely should make reservations.

There is a small amount of counter seating, the chef's table, where guests can enjoy dinner, overlooking the kitchen.

The restaurant has a full alcohol menu, beers, wines, and cocktails. At the 26-seat bar, there are four TVs where you can watch local sports. Their Signature Cocktail List includes 10 cocktails, priced $11-$13, such as the Bourbon Chartreuse Smash, Eclipse Rum Punch, and Paloma Sunrise. After dinner, we sat at the bar for a final cocktail, and I enjoyed the well-made Blueberry Mezcal Mule, made with Mezcal, muddled blueberries, lime, & ginger beer.

There are 23 options on their Wine List By The Glass, including 2 Sparkling, 2 Rosé, 10 Whites, and 9 Reds, reasonably priced at $8-$14. The list has some usual and popular choices, from California, Washington, France, Italy, Argentina, Spain, and more. The Wine List By The Bottle, with over 100 options, has more exciting options and is described as "a mix of old world and new world with a lean toward biodynamic wines." The list is broken into eight sections which they describe as "Baskets" and each section lists the white wines first and then the red wines, each group listed from lightest to heaviest.

The "baskets" include Biodynamic-Farmed & Natural; CommencementPizza Oven & Pasta Makers; Raw BarWood Grill; By The FireLingering At The Table; and Crowd Pleasers. These groupings will help diners select wines to pair with their food, and the servers can also offer advice. Our server seemed to have a good grasp of the wine list, and selected some very delicious and interesting wines for our dinner.

The vast majority of wines are priced from $24-$95, with about 20 wines priced over $100, so there are options at all price points. If you want to splurge, there are wines for you, including Champagne, French Burgundy and California Cabernet Sauvignon. If you're part of a large party, you can consider the two wines listed under Crowd Pleasers, the Veuve Cliquot Yellow Label Brut ($1000) and Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon ($1200). Both of these wines are offered in Imperial Bottles (also known as Methuselahs) which each hold 6 liters, the equivalent of 8 standard bottles.

On the list, you'll find some of the usual suspects, highly popular wines that will please a number of people, such as Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio and Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay. However, there are also a significant number of less common wines, intriguing wines from countries like Bulgaria and Lebanon, as well as a significant number of compelling Natural wines. The basket of Biodynamic-Farmed & Natural has 14 options, priced $28-$61, except one at $175, and the wines are from France, Italy, and Greece. During my dinner, I tasted 3 of these wines and was impressed with the selections, and will provide more detail about each choice later in this article.

The wine list caters to varied groups, from those who want the most popular choices, to those seeking something more unique. Too many similar types of restaurants opt only for the more popular wines, unwilling to place riskier choices on their list. For example, natural wines are much more of a hand-sell though the wines would please many people if they were willing to take a chance on them. Kudos to Forge & Vine for creating a wine list that will excite even wine geeks.

The Food Menu, which changes seasonally, is extensive without being overwhelming. It includes Starters (8 options at $8-$18, such as Country Style Ribs, Blue Hill Bay Mussels, Spring Pea Risotto), Shared Plates (7 options at $10-$22, such as New England Cheese Plate, Tuna Tartare, Smoked Bluefish Pate), Salads (3 options at $10-$12), Raw Bar (Oysters, Littleneck Clams, Oyster Shooter, Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail, and Chilled Seafood Platter), Flatbreads (6 options at $15 each, such as Margherita, Spicy Sausage, Fig & Prosciutto), Plates (12 options at $15-$42, such as 1/2 Rotisserie Chicken, 10 oz. NY Strip, Potato Crusted Cod, Shrimp Linguini), Entrees for Two (Rotisserie All Natural Chicken $35 and 32 oz Wood-Grilled Ribeye $60), and Sides (8 options at $6, such as Duck Fat Potatoes, Wood Grilled Asparagus, Loaded Sweet Potato).

There are plenty of comfort food options on the menu, and you could dine on a number of small plates, or order a larger entree. They use many local ingredients, such as Little Leaf greens, and there are options for meat lovers, seafood lovers and vegetarians. Many of the dishes can be found on plenty of other menus, except that Forge & Vine often infuses their own unique twists. For example, the Tuna Tartare includes macadamia nuts while the Country Style Ribs use a Vermont maple barbecue sauce. I sampled several items on the menu but there were plenty of other dishes that I wanted to taste as well, which I'll have to do another time.

As you peruse the menu and wait for your first dish to arrive, you're presented with complimentary bread, hearty rustic slices, and some tasty, briny olives.

Our first wine of the evening was the 2017 Laurent Cazottes Champetre Blanc ($48), from the Gaillac region of south western France. It is produced from 100% Mauzac Blanc, a grape that is indigenous to this region, and which is new to me. The wine is fermented in stainless steel with native yeasts, aged in tank on its fine lees, and isn't fined or filtered. The wine is also certified organic and Biodynamic. With a 12% ABV, this was an impressive white wine, one I want to buy so I can enjoy it all summer long. It was crisp and light, fresh and clean, with delicious citrus, especially lemon and pear notes. Excellent acidity, a lengthy finish, and a few floral hints. Pure pleasure and it would be a great pairing with seafood too. My highest recommendation.

With this wine, we opted for some Jumbo Shrimp cocktail ($3 each) and 4 different Oysters ($3 each), accompanied by a spicy cocktail sauce, champagne mignonette, and horseradish. The fresh seafood went great with the Champetre Blanc, especially the briny oysters.

The ample plate of Crispy Fried Point Judith Calamari ($14) is made with chorizo, cherry peppers, and baby kale. The calamari was tender, with a clean, crunchy coating, and the chorizo made for an excellent addition. A well prepared dish. It too paired well with the Champetre Blanc. 

Our second wine was the 2017 Kontozisis Organic Vineyards A-Grafo Roditis ($61), a Greek wine made from 100% Roditis, an indigenous grape. It is made in the Ramato style, a type of skin-contact wine, which sometimes is referred to as an "orange wine." It had an intriguing aroma and taste, a delightful blend of citrus and savory notes, a touch of pineapple and earthiness. Crisp acidity, lengthy finish and quite delicious. And definitely makes an interesting food wine.

There are six Flatbread options, all priced at $15 each, and a gluten free option is available too. We opted for the White Clam Flatbread, with chopped surf clams, parsley, and bacon lardons. Quite compelling! The crust was crisp and slightly chewy, just the right texture you'd like for this flatbread, and there was plenty of melted cheese, salty bacon, and slightly briny clam pieces. All of the ingredients meshed well together, one of those times when seafood and cheese definitely makes a complimentary pairing.

The third wine was the 2017 Tiberi, ‘L Rosso ($60), from Umbria, Italy, made from a blend of Gamay and Ciliegiolo. This is also a natural wine, which was unfiltered and unfined, and aged for about 8 months in stainless steel. It is light bodied and fresh, with a pleasing blend of red fruit and spice, and a touch of rusticness. Easy drinking, but with some complexity, it was delicious and would pair well this summer with grilled meats.

As a cornbread lover, I had to order the Side of Anson Mills Skillet Cornbread ($6), which is topped with a scoop of molasses butter. It met my high expectations, being properly moist with a rich corn flavor and the butter added a nice sweetness with the intriguing tang of the molasses. I would certainly order it again, and again. Highly recommended!

The Blood Farm Cheeseburger ($16) is accompanied by spicy aioli, bread & butter pickles, lettuce, onion and Vermont cheddar, with except but the cheddar on the side. The burger was thick and juicy, with a nice tang from the cheddar, and the homemade pickles were tasty. This hearty burger, with a soft, seeded roll, hits all the right points, from a good burger to bun ratio, to its amount of char. Plus, the meat is sourced from a local farm in Groton. With the burger, are hand cut fries, and they were properly crisp with a fluffy interior. Another good option on the menu.

I also had to try their version of Poutine ($12), with shredded short rib, brown gravy, and Maple Brook Farm cheese curd. The shredded short rib was moist, tender and flavorful and the gravy was tasty too. Both very good elements in this version of poutine. My only quibble is that all of the cheese was melted. I was expecting the usual, slightly melted curds, which still had some of that springy texture to them. That textural element adds to the appeal of poutine to me, also separating it from simple cheese fries.

The small Dessert menu has five options, four prices at $9 and one at $8. The first four options include Carrot Cake, Chevre Cheesecake, Chocolate Amaretto Panna Cotta, and Coconut Rice Pudding. The last option is the Frozen Treat Selection, which includes ice cream and sorbet. After recently writing an article on the History of Carrot Cake, I decided to select the Carrot Cake for dessert, which has pineapple caramel, sunflower seed, and cream cheese frosting. The cake was moist and tasty, with nuts and no raisins, and the pineapple caramel was an intriguing addition. Though I usually am not a big fan of cream cheese frosting, this had a lighter version which was appealing. A fine ending to our dinner.

Our last wine was the 2016 Boschendal Chardonnay Pinot Noir, a South African wine with a pale pink color, and a fascinating blend of flavors, from bright strawberry to hints of apple. It is crisp and light, an elegant wine that would make a fine aperitif or accompaniment to dessert.

Overall, Forge & Vine is a fine addition to the culinary scene of the Groton area. The food was delicious, well prepared, and numerous dishes use local ingredients. From my location, I saw plenty of other dishes leaving the kitchen, and they were visually appealing, especially the Rack of Lamb. This is largely comfort food, well-made and with their own unique spin. The wine list by the bottle is impressive, with a significant amount of more unique wines which should appeal to any wine lover. Their cocktails are also well-made. Service was excellent, and there were plenty of servers working that evening, ensuring everyone received sufficient attention. I strongly recommend you dine at Forge & Vine

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