Amuse-bouche Hervé Wine Bar
Once you become aware of the brickpaved pedestrian alley on San Francisco Street that penetrates into the block of shops not far across Burro Alley from the Lensic Performing Arts Center, it’s hard to imagine why it is so easy to miss, lined as it is with wine barrels and inviting pots of flowers. The walkway deposits you at Hervé, which, most immediately, is a spacious wine bar and tasting room in the space formerly occupied by the nightclub Skylight, where you can perch on a barstool and consume a glass or sample a flight of wines produced by St. Clair Winery. Founded in 1981 by Burgundian transplant Hervé Lescombes (hence the name), St. Clair tends its grapes at Lordsburg, in the deep south of New Mexico, and processes them at its winery in Deming.
You could order food right there at the tasting bar, but let’s say you wanted to settle in to more restaurantlike digs. No problem. Continue through to the dining space, a large, appealing room in which you may stake your claim among more than a dozen widely spaced tables: two-tops, four-tops, high-tops, easy chairs with coffee tables — whatever rings your bells. Here you can order from a list of 16 varietals or, in a few cases, blends produced by St. Clair or other labels that operate under its aegis. A predetermined, inexpensive flight of three, two-ounce pours (which is very little wine) changes from day to day, although whenever I ordered it, chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon were both in the lineup. Add a fourth pour (plus four bucks) and you get to choose your own selections from the list.
I haven’t tasted all the wines on offer. Of those I have, I encountered none that were ungratifying and several that I will happily revisit in the future, among them a charming, light rosé (made from syrah, I would think), a hearty and muscular petite sirah, the “Danielle” sparkling wine (they call it dry, I found it fruity), and an imperial kir (its bubbly raspberry sweetness proving a balm on a hot day). The
enthusiastic waitstaff provides informed commentary, if you want it.
The food menu is designed for noshing and sharing. A charcuterie board ($20) offers a generous selection of cured meats, patés, and other goodies; a step up from there, the “Hervé board” ($25) also includes several cheeses and chocolates — really a meal’s worth of munching for two. Of the little bites, excellent hummus with feta makes for fine communal dipping, while a bowl of balsamic roasted grapes and olives (with rosemary) is on the “meh” side and crispy salumi chips were painfully salty. An order of bruschette — you choose four from the eight preparations available — is a good bet; I particularly relished those featuring artichoke and Parmesan, Serrano ham and pesto (again with Parmesan), cured salmon with capers and green-chile cream cheese (such a pleasant kick!), and that hummus again, now with red peppers and sun-dried tomatoes in the mix. For a table of four, each bruschetta arrived thoughtfully sliced into four segments.
We need not enter the argument about whether green beans and potatoes properly figure in a salade niçoise; if they were good enough for Escoffier, they’re good enough for me. Hervé’s version is a thing of beauty: slices of rare ahi tuna lightly seared at the sesame-coated edges, along with wedges of potatoes and hard-boiled eggs, green beans, pungent anchovies, and a mix of salad greens and olives, each ingredient arrayed in its own territory rather than mixed together. Less stout beans, of the classic French haricot vert sort, would make it even better. A burrata salad with basil was tasty, since various incarnations of tomato tarted up the burrata, which offered creamy texture but not much flavor. For dessert, a deconstructed biscochito gelato sandwich was yummy though we left much of the biscochito behind, finding it difficult to cut with utensils.
The handsome room invites relaxation, with metalwork balcony railings and a skylight adding a sense of airiness. Sad to say, it has not been conducive to the long-term survival of its occupants. Hervé should be able to make a go of it, though, being a tasteful, modestly priced hangout that is mere steps from the Lensic. Management might be wise to keep it open later than it currently does and actively court post-performance audiences. It would be a great place to linger, snack, and sip, a tempting alternative to heading directly home after a lecture or concert.