Barrel Wine Cantine Opens Today In Midtown

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Barrel Wine Cantine is not the latest pop-up restaurant, although it did seemingly pop up overnight in the former W Wine Bistro space at 3622 NE Second Avenue (right on the cusp between midtown and the Design District). Yet while it is true that Victor Passalacqua has not been involved with the space for an inordinate amount of time (see: Raleigh Hotel restaurant; José Andrés Bazaar), there's been a lot of work involved in setting things up.

Former gold-leaf-accented doors have been turned horizontal and transformed into glass-top tables. Wine bottles have been stocked into the wooden racks that line the walls (Old World on one side, New World on the other). And chef Passalacqua has been in the kitchen preparing the pâtes and terrines and prepping for the braised short ribs, chicken fricassé and other homecooked dishes that will be on the menu on opening day -- meaning today, from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. (the same hours are in effect every day except Sundays).

"It's not a restaurant," Victor explains while unmolding a foie gras terrine. "It's a neighborhood place, somewhere to come in, get a bottle of wine with some cheese or charcuterie, empanadas, or, if you want something more substantial you can get that too. It's about wine, food, and friends."

Victor trained with the likes of Paul Bocuse and Alain Ducasse. Many locals will remember him from the years he owned and operated Bistro Bisou in the Dadeland Plaza Mall (2008 to 2011), but he played a role in the Miami dining scene for years before that. Passalacqua was chef at Le Festival, back when it was the best French restaurant in the city. He was opening partner and general manager of La Dorada, back when it was the best seafood restaurant in the city. And he served as GM at other high end establishments, including Fontana Restaurant at the Biltmore Hotel, where he got to work in tandem with his close friend Philippe Ruiz. Turns out he and Philippe like to kiddingly debate whose foie gras terrine is superior.

"Don't get me wrong," starts Victor. "His terrine is great. I mean...Philippe Ruiz." His facial expression and outstretched palms make clear nothing else need be said about how good his friend's terrine is. "But he uses Armagnac in his. I use Cognac, which is milder. I like to taste the foie gras." He gives a sly smile, knowing well that he is egging Ruiz on. I let Victor know that the next time I speak with Philippe, I am going to elicit his take on the matter. He laughs, as if imagining the response.

You can probably tell from the photo that this foie gras terrine is terrific -- outrageously rich, velvety, and tasty. A portion is $14. "I'm making it myself, so I can charge that. Other places have to charge $20."

He is confident that the public will understand what he is trying to do at Barrel. "I remember when the finest restaurants in Miami were mediocre at best. You would find bottles of Martini & Rossi on the table. Now people know their stuff and appreciate good food."

And they likewise appreciate tasty wine: "My main goal was to look for the rare stuff, the good stuff. Some of it is expensive (top label is $2,000), but 80 percent of the bottles will be around $11 to $50." The markups are "around 30 percent." Corkage fee, if you'd rather bring your own, is $10. There are plans to hold wine tastings and cheese tastings every week. As already mentioned, Barrel is not a restaurant, but Passalacqua does concede that it is "a wine store with a restaurant in it." An eclectic selection of about 15 craft and micro-brews are on hand too. "No commercial beers." Price will be around $4 to $8.

About the restaurant: A deli case will hold cold cuts such as garlic saucisson, Rosette de Lyon, and prosciutto, as well as a range of imported cheeses; dips (hummus; spinach-cheeses); homemade country-style pâte, duck pâte, and the aforementioned foie gras terrine. Other items include quiches, empanadas (goat cheese with tomato and Niçoice olive; beef with egg and tomato; minced, smoky ham); various salads (spinach with pear and gorgonzola; cucumber-dill; curried chicken; potato, apple, and raisin); tapas and small plates including tortilla española, smoked duck bruschetta, escargot, and fried garbanzos with chorizo.

There are sandwiches too ($7 or $8), ranging from the classic croque Monsieur to a Cuban sandwich to smoked salmon with tomatoes and capers.Other main dishes on the menu (besides the short ribs and fricasse) will be lamb stew, moule frites, coq au vin, cheese lasagna (and a vegan version too) -- for just $10 or $12 per plate. You won't find all of these comestibles every day, but there will rather be a rotating selection of various items.

All manner of espresso variations are poured, with buttery croissants, pan con chocolate, and assorted breads to go along. Plus there's a big, free parking lot right across the street, so it's easy to pop into this non-pop-up wine store with a restaurant in it. If you like affordable wine and delectable French fare in a relaxed atmosphere, I suggest you do so. If you enjoy foie gras terrine, I suggest you do so very quickly. I didn't see a second loaf of it around.

Barrel Wine Cantine
3622 NE Second Ave., Miami

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