Part of writing critically about food includes context, and part of the context is your own personal perspective — and prejudices. Example: I’ve never been a wine guy. Compared to beer it is often fussy, expensive, and stuffy — a way to stratify people based on money and knowledge, not bring them together with flavor and good cheer. Much of the problem lies with American wine culture, a two-headed beast of pretense and bad taste: either keeping-up-with-the-Duponts excess or loud, fruity, boorish swill with sexy-and-or-animal themed bottles.
It doesn’t have to be that way. There are shops (Cork Dork comes to mind) fighting to bring wine back to some kind of affable, hospitality-focused place where bottles are affordable, comprehensible, and delicious, meant to be paired with food and sipped on a weeknight.
And there are wine bars and restaurants fighting the good fight, too. We found our way to Domacin (doh-MAH-chin, from the Serbian term for “host,” from the Latin “domicile”) in Stillwater on a hot, humid June day. The by-the-glass wine list was brief and neat, and our waiter seemed intimately familiar with every option on it. He casually reeled off flavor characteristics and grape varietals as he guided me toward what I wanted: a clean, crisp white wine with a sense of minerality. That’s what the weather and my mood demanded, and that’s what I asked for.
What I got was a glass of wine from the Langhe area in the Piedmont region of Italy — a Malvira Treuve, a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon, and Arneis grapes. Served alongside a plate of beef carpaccio, it fit the bill precisely. It was more citrus than mineral, but very well suited to the day and my mood. It leant itself to one of those European-vacation-gone-right moments: good food and wine outdoors, no pretense, and a reasonable price.
If you want to dive more deeply into the world of wine, the bottle menu numbers in the hundreds, and ranges up into the low four figures should you choose to splash out on something rare and valuable. (Whether any one bottle of wine can offer as much pleasure as 20 bottles of 18-year-old Highland Park is a discussion for another time.) And if you aren’t interested in sitting on the wine bar’s small but pleasant patio, there are bar seats and tables, plus an elegant eight-person wine cellar nook that would be a perfect gathering place for a determined party of ambitious imbibers.
The restaurant’s menu is simple but elevated, written by grownups for grownups. The closest thing we found to a gimmick was the white chocolate in the tomatillo bisque ($4 / cup), but, we figured, it’s a way to add creamy texture without a lot of sweetness. Sure enough: The soup was brilliant, evocative of fondue, with a subtly spicy acidic bite countering the rich, creamy liquid and complementing the chalky, mellow bits of feta scattered throughout. It was good on a spoon, it was good when sipped from the cup, and it was stellar on bread.
The beef carpaccio ($10) practically melted in the mouth, and while the capers and cheese sitting atop it shouted down the meat’s flavor a bit, the overall dish was pleasing.
Our Wine Lovers Plate ($16) featured buttery green olives, marcona almonds, cured meat, hummus, and cheeses, and was an ideal outdoor happy hour choice. We would’ve liked to hear about the cheeses (and would’ve loved to hear that some or all were from Minnesota or Wisconsin), but maybe that’s our food snob damage talking. What we really should be doing is sitting back and sipping our wine.
Domacin Restaurant & Winebar
Wine bar in Stillwater
102 2nd St S
Stillwater, MN 55082
OWNERS / CHEF: Aleksandar Pantic and Rich Hoch / Jeffrey Lundmark
BAR: Wine and beer
ENTREE RANGE: $12-30