Curiosity Shop | Wine | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Curiosity Shop 

Fine wines and small plates add up to good bargains at Panache Wine Bar.

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Shauna Engen is a passionate woman who enjoys talking about her “vision.” As owner and CEO of Panache Catering, Restaurant Panache, Panache Wine Bar and the Fresh Air Café, that vision'and her passion'seems to be primarily about supplying warm hospitality by the boatload. She enjoys people and loves to throw a fabulous party. Her seasonal Panache “soirees” are solid evidence of that, and I’ve written about them before.

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However, since Engen’s background isn’t in food or wine service (she’s learning fast), she’s been wise to surround herself by wine experts like Vicky Martinez and Jon Engen as well as a very talented chef in Garry Maxwell. Engen'who didn’t even like wine a few years ago'now owns Salt Lake City’s only real wine bar. And, although she only launched into the restaurant and catering biz in 1996, she’s been named Utah Business Woman of the Year'awarded personally by none other than George W. Bush'and she’s the president’s ambassador for the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce. Also, she looks a lot like The Daily Show’s Samantha Bee.

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Engen likes to say that the Panache Wine Bar'located on the second level of the Wells Fargo Building Center on Main Street'is a “place for the wine-curious.” That’s an apt description, since anyone curious about wine'and keen on exploring wines from around the world at very reasonable prices'would do well to make their way to the wine bar which is, by the way, a private club. It’s also (thankfully) a nonsmoking club, although smokers will find respite in Panache’s separate cigar room, stocked with fine cigars to accompany perhaps an after-dinner glass of Port. I told you the stuff was reasonably priced: You can get a glass of Dow Late Bottle Vintage 2000 Port for $6 and the lighter, more contemporary-styled Warre’s Otima 10-Year-Old Tawny for $7. I’ve seen the same or comparable Port priced elsewhere around town for $15.

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I predicted a while back that Panache Wine Bar would become “one of the hot social spots of downtown Salt Lake City.” Well, that hasn’t exactly happened, although it has become a good spot for discriminating lovers of food and wine. Thankfully, Engen’s catering business is so successful that it allows her to indulge in her “hobby”'the Panache Wine Bar'without having to bleed customers for every dollar. Again, food and wine prices are extremely fair and reasonable here.

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The bartenders and servers at Panache Wine Bar are very wine savvy. So when a guy like Brett Sheene, the new bar manager at Panache Wine Bar, tells you that you should try a glass of Loriñón Crianza ($6) with chef Maxwell’s duck confit tostadas ($7), you can trust his recommendation. He’s also a great source of knowledge about beer, single-malts and cigars, so pick his brain. That’s one of the main draws of Panache Wine Bar: Remember, it’s for the wine curious.

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But back to that tostada. Maxwell starts with deep-fried wonton wrappers for the “tostada” base. On top of that go shredded duck confit, Asian pea salad with curry vinaigrette and a zippy Thai-style peanut sauce. The tiny tostadas'three to a plate'would taste great with a fresh-drawn Bohemian Brewery Czech pilsner, but also really rocks with the flavors of preserved cherries, roasted coffee and bitter chocolate in the Loriñón Tinto Crianza. It’s a very serious Rioja wine for the wine curious.

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Wine consultant Vicky Martinez has done a bang-up job with the wine list at Panache, offering 100 or so wines by the bottle and 15-20 by the glass. The list changes frequently, giving customers a chance to sample a wide range of wines, most priced at $6-$7 per glass or $28-$38 per bottle. It’s a fun, eclectic wine list but not necessarily one for snobs, the most expensive bottle on the current list being Morey Clos St. Jean Chassagne Montrachet 2003 for a mere $77. I was surprised to see a bottle of one of my favorite wines'Falesco Montiano Lazio 2001'priced at Panache for only $58 when it normally retails in wine stores for around $45. When I asked Vicky about it, she said, “Well, I bought it at half price, and I like to pass the savings on to our customers.” You won’t be gouged at Panache.

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Something called “pan-seated sea scallops” (I think they meant “seared”) was a bit too salty for me and my dining companions, but chipotle espresso-marinated skirt steak served with grilled polenta and a black bean-roasted corn hash ($10) was nummy! Ditto for a California Pizza Kitchen-style Margherita pizza with fresh Roma tomatoes, roasted garlic oil, fresh mozzarella cheese and basil ($5), which went nicely with a glass of Gascon Malbec 204 from Argentina ($6/$28). Oh, and don’t be shy: Just because Valentine’s Day has passed doesn’t mean you shouldn’t treat yourself to macerated strawberries ($5) with sabayon and a glass of Segura Viudas Brut Reserva bubbly ($6) or maybe the Borsao Rose 2005 ($5), both from Spain.

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In case you can’t tell from the prices, Panache Wine Bar is a “small plates” restaurant/club. So don’t think you’re going to get a 1-pound steak when you order the peppered top sirloin with unagi sauce ($7). But that’s just fine with me. Because every new small plate I order is a new opportunity for a fresh and unique wine pairing!

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PANACHE WINE BAR
n299 S. Main
nSecond floor
nWells Fargo Center
n535-4311
nOpen Tuesday-Saturday from 4:30

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