In the most inimitable style, Charracate, the new wine bar next door to Barbara’s Bazaar, is a dining phenomenon of sorts – offering a charcuterie menu.
The venue is French in its food and wine presentation, eclectic in its ambiance and as cozy and intimate as an illicit rendezvous. Except when visitors and patrons are strolling about browsing the “for sale” items and the art decorating the walls and some of the furnishings.
Charcuterie is a branch of dining devoted to prepared meat products, such as bacon, ham, sausage, terrines (pâté with coarsely chopped ingredients), pâtés, confits and other ready-to-serve foods. Your menu order comes to the table on a wooden board with appropriate condiments and sides. The board was invented as an easy, crowd-pleasing presentation of hors d’oeuvres aimed at stimulating the taste and readying it for the real treat, the finely-vinted wines.
The Charracate menu is an approximation of the original French charcuterie offerings, with a variety of cheeses from the Eurozone, and cold, cured meats such as thinly sliced smoked duck on a bed of arugula, freshly-carved baked ham, and a dry sausage from Catalonia served on a molten golden Mexican apple. But it is the escargots in garlic butter (Escargots à la Bourguignonne) that is the Eiffel Tower of any such charcuterie menu. Tom Thompson, the owner and manager, also plans to add French onion soup to your selections.
So, as for any exotic bar featuring exquisite wines, the menu’s chapter one offers a showcase of top-of-the-line European wines by the bottle: Whites from a supple, tangy Albariño from northwestern Spain to a honey-fruity vernaccia from Cesani Vincenzo de San Gimignano; Reds from a Tuscan sangiovese to an aromatic, full-bodied tempranillo from Spain. There is also a selection of fine Mexican wines. One or two bubblies and sweet wines finish off the exquisite selections, along with artesanal beers and imported sparkling mineral waters.
If this sounds a bit high-brow for many diners, it is! All in all, Charracate – named after the milkman from decades ago who lived there – is a must-visit venue, diced up into small settings and recesses for intimacy, especially for a romantic or special event evening. The furnishings that line the walls and nooks within are antiques, grand and hand-carved many decades ago, when furniture appealed as art objects, designed for examination, not practicality – in some ways, the most suitable trappings for a French-style wine-bar setting. The ambiance is made tranquil and casual with jazz music at low volume in the background.
I had the smoked duck and it was tantalizingly delightful dipped in a mango sauce. My guest had the p’tit basque cheese from France served with a guava preserve. These were the perfect accompaniments to our quality wine selections.
But the traditional charcuterie board often offers a selection of items and foods. The purpose is to create a greater variety of taste sensations, given that the variety of appetizers enhances your wine differently with each sip. According to Thompson, this current menu is just the beginning, a test to see what will truly please his discriminating clientele.
But be aware: Doors are currently open only two days a week, Thursday and Friday. And pricing is at the high end for Ajijic.