Worthy of a Double-take

Laudable wining and dining at Town Square’s Double Helix Wine & Whiskey Lounge

The wine bar has slowly been working its way into the American consciousness, but it has a long way to go before it attains the popularity of a beer hall or cocktail lounge. La Cave at the Wynn is going great guns, but Nora’s Wine Bar in Boca Park recently went belly-up. I’d wager that the concept still makes investors nervous. Wine, for many of us, is a beverage that accompanies fine food, not an end unto itself.

Double Helix Wine & Whiskey Lounge, Ray Nisi’s wine bar/restaurant at Town Square, recently took over a space (formerly home to The Grape) that has been given an elegant face-lift: plush chairs and sofas, walls painted a deep crimson, a polished stone floor and nifty Moorish chandeliers. Unlike the smallish original Double Helix location in the Shoppes at the Palazzo, here Nisi gets to stretch out a little.

Wines here are dispensed by ultra-modern contraptions called Wine Stations, made by Napa Technology. They are similar to Enomatics, a French wine dispenser that pioneered this technology. The servers use a special card to talk to the machines, which dispense wines directly from the bottle, the remainder kept fresh using a vacuum seal. This makes it possible to have more than 50 wines by the glass, anything from $5 half-glasses of Edna Valley syrah to a $35 full glass of Stag’s Leap Fay Vineyard.

In Town Square—home to busy watering holes such as Blue Martini and Yard House that don’t exactly take food seriously and yet manage to attract an overflow crowd of young professionals—the jury is still out as to whether the crowd will ever be three-deep at a wine bar.

Man cannot live by wine alone.

But I wouldn’t be writing about Double Helix in this space were I not impressed with the cooking of chef Doug Vega, formerly of Daniel Boulud’s Brasserie at the Wynn. Most of what the chef cooks is terrific, some of the best bar chow in town. And between 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. every day, a good number of these dishes are available for half-price during what is certainly our most impressive happy hour.

Take the olive poppers, for example, $3 at half-price during happy hour: firm olives stuffed with chorizo and goat cheese. Barbecue pork sliders, done North Carolina-style, are stuffed with pulled pork and slaw, three to an order for $4.50. I’m full.

There are lots of other choices on the full menu, but perhaps my favorite dish here is churrasco Argentino, thinly sliced Angus skirt steak with an eccentric, heavily pureed take on chimichurri, a green herb sauce. I’d pass on the mushy, underseasoned chickpea hummus, which had the texture of Gerber apple sauce, and order arancini instead, crispy rice balls laced with mascarpone cheese.

The shrimp and grits arrive as a large bowl composed of three huge shrimp, grits studded with bacon, green onions and cheddar cheese and a rich, spicy brown sauce.

Something they call Grown-ups’ Grilled Cheese is really a sneaky way to get us to eat a Croque Monsieur, a grilled ham and cheese topped with Gruyére. We’re guessing the management figured we wouldn’t order it if it were listed by its French name. And let’s not overlook an impressive selection of cheese and charcuterie here, all well chosen by the chef.

If you insist, there’s a two-layer chocolate mousse for dessert, and an ornate Opera cake, a multilayered Viennese torte. Me, I’m going for the Rye flight: $30 for four boutique rye whiskies, including that of neighboring High West Distillery of Park City, Utah.

In my book, Double Helix has all the tools to give it staying power. Soon, we’ll find out if the Gen Y’ers who inhabit Town Square see it my way.

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