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Imagine this: the sultry, clandestine meeting of an 18th-century French ladies parlor and the ritzy know-how of a smoke-filled Vienna coffeehouse on Wienerstraße. It’s a sight for sore eyes: A place where you can sip decadent black coffee before you enjoy a shallow glass of Gewürztraminer; where you lounge in claw-footed couches upholstered with floral figurines as your feet rest on marble coffee tables; where you indulge in Caprese amid the constant buzz of conversation.

And when you wake up, you find yourself, unfortunately, on 12th Avenue in Denver’s Congress Park neighborhood.

Or perhaps not so unfortunately. Sienna Wine Bar seems to be Europe’s token presence in the neighborhood, but not so token that it lacks authenticity. There is a catch of Americanism that renders it welcome in the stretch of shops lining 12th, and a subdued Old World vitality offered up in kitschy furniture and wall-scattered knick-knacks. There is a distinct musk that pervades that space, but that’s just more quirky charm—after five minutes, the anachronistic wine bar feels truly, unbelievable comfortable.

But more about the wine. Theirs is a catchy selection, if all over the map—literally. Each varietal section boasts five or six wines by the glass—which seem to be the go-tos for most—while full bottles spread into both comfortable and stranger breeds. Native Denver’s Infinite Monkey Theorem boasts a presence, which is pleasing to natives, as do several vineyards in Napa and Sonoma. As far as Italy, France, and Germany are concerned, however, the picks are scattershot—Nebbiolos to Chiantis, Champagne to Chardonnay. Descriptions offer a bit of guidance, though only true oenophiles could tell you what you need to know about the regions from which these varietals hail. For the adventurous, it’s a gloriously safe opportunity for exploration, while for the greener drinkers, there is at least a name or two that catch the eye.

There is a distinct musk that pervades that space, but that’s just more quirky charm—after five minutes, the anachronistic wine bar feels truly, unbelievable comfortable.

What better to pair with wine than small plates? It’s a quickly growing trend, modeled after tapas restaurants in Spain and calling on flavor combinations from Italy. Classic antipasti easily whet the appetite (gourmet pizza and cured meats are happy choices), while more unusual small bites make their way onto the menu, like the ratatouille and baguette combination. It’s hard to go wrong with much of anything on the food menu, and while you might not be able to call any one dish truly authentic, it recalls enough of the Old World classics to make the menu eminently appealing and worth a wealth of sampling.

Dessert comes fast (or perhaps first), and pairs well with premium Lavazza coffee (the only brand worth it’s beans, if you ask me). I’ve never been much for dairy-based desserts, but the ice cream and sorbet are universal hits. Keep it simple—the European way.

If and when and the weather is accommodating, Sienna has prepared a comfortable patio area for lounging and noshing—set with couches, lounge chairs, low-lying tables, and umbrellas for shade.

Does Sienna live up to the Old World memory of classic coffee houses and French parlors? Enough—in design, drink, and dish—that it might become the tucked-away little favorite of Congress Park. Just don’t be fooled into thinking it’s a transplanted Vienna or Paris.

Rating:  * * *
Wine of note: Bellingham Chenin Blanc (perfect hot weather comfort, and pairs well with everything from empanadas to gelato)
Food of note: Baked Brie (a classic, if simple)

1 Comment

  1. John Buckner says:

    Great review, though the bit about the musk suggests Flaubert. I await, with eagerness, comments on House of Commons Tea Room.

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