Black Mountain Wine House is an apt name for this transporting little wine bar in Carroll Gardens. It feels like it was air lifted from the Black Mountains; it is literally a house, and they do serve quite a bit of wine. You’ll find it nested on the leafy corner of Hoyt and Union Streets like a mirage from some scene from an Ang Lee film. It’s a sweet little bungalow with a log cabin-like exterior, and a front patio filled with sunny flowerpots, a wheel barrel, and a living room set of rustic raw-wood Adirondack chairs and benches where you can sit and enjoy a glass of wine or a beer and let the day dissolve into night. (The only thing missing out there is an outdoor fire pit, which would be nice on nights when the temps dip down, making it just slightly too cold to eat outside.)
Through the front door (salvaged from a turn-of-the-century farmhouse) you’ll find one of the coziest rooms in the five boroughs. With a warm amber glow from the tan raw hide hanging lamps, weathered floorboards, countryside wainscoting running up the walls, and an oversized working fireplace at the rear, it’s the sort of place that makes you yearn for a big snowstorm so that you’ll be marooned in this rocky mountain oasis for a good while. It’s like the mountainside home nestled in the thick redwood forest that you’ve always wanted to come home to.
Black Mountain comes to us from the owners of Patois and Pacifico, who know a thing or two about creating transporting atmosphere. Pacifico takes you across the border to a sun-drenched taqueria in Mexico City, while Patois is a McNally-like replica of a Parisian bistro. But Black Mountain is truly special, as it’s got no design imitators. Perhaps it’s close to the vibe at Freeman’s, but it’s cozier, and it lacks the requisite hipster taxidermy. It’s just the sweetest little spot that’s romantic enough to make lovers of the greatest foes. (At least for one night.)
With décor this perfect (it’s theatrical set worthy), the food and wine don’t really matter all that much. I mean just sitting in there is like some sort of Zen mountain therapy: it drops your blood pressure, loosens the knots in your neck, un-knits the furrow from your brow. You’ll just want to sit there, perhaps across from someone you like to look at, and you really won’t care what it is you’re drinking or eating. But then again it is a food establishment after all, and there will be eating and drinking. So about that.
The wine list- 10 whites, 10 reds, 3 sparkling, and 2 rose by the glass ($6-$14), and 16 more wines by the bottle, split between white and red- was recently revamped and pumped up by Brandon Barton, formerly of Tabla, and it features many lesser-known producers and regions, like Tavel in the Southern Rhone—red wines packed with ripe Grenache flavors. Wines you’ve never heard of from Lebanon and Greece get equal billing with those from Spain, France and Italy, while the Pinot Gris is from Austria, and the Gewurztraminer is from the Finger Lakes. If you’re in need of some help, call over the young guy in his 20s with the ponytail. That’s Tyler, who’s the general manager, and he’s always eager to talk wine and he can help guide you through the list and make sure you’re drinking something new and interesting. The open kitchen, about the size of an airplane bathroom, turns out a good selection of smallish plates and specials priced at $10 each. While the selection is small, there’s plenty there to make a nice dinner: Swiss chard and ricotta pie, wild mushroom mac’ n cheese with truffle oil, crusty paninis (served with salad)—one with mortadella, hot peppers and Polish bacon and another with goat cheese and eggplant), a Niçoise salad of “really expensive canned tuna” with green beans feta and hard-boiled egg, black olives and capers, alongside nightly specials like duck streudel. One night, when I was in with my friend Debbie, we started with some oysters and a couple of glasses of bubbly—a Chateau Bethanie Cremant du Jura ($9), which is always a good way to start any meal. Unfortunately, the oysters were strangely flabby and flavorless. I’ve never experienced anything like it before. No salinity at all? How odd. No matter, the Jura was crisp and chalky, pleasantly fizzy and lovely.
To follow up and make our small plates more of a meal, we added their Winter Salad, a generous serving of chopped up endive, arugula, and radicchio tossed with accoutrements that played sweet, tart, and salty chords—crisp apples, juicy clementines, and nuggets of sharp nutty Pecorino. It was a Tuesday, which is Fondue Night at Black Mountain, and since it also happened to be bitter cold and raining out, we were more than happy to dip into a bubbly pot of Swiss Fondue ($16), served with chunks of bread studded with sausage. Yum. The fondue had filled us (and warmed us) so we weren’t in the mood for dessert (or more cheese from their nice little list), but we were hesitant to leave the warmth of our cocoon. So we lingered after dinner over a couple of glasses of Cossar Gordon Madiera ($10) until it was time to walk home.
When I got home that night, I was all about the restaurant. I told Craig about the cozy porch and the farmhouse atmosphere and the terrific fondue (we got engaged shortly after sharing a big pot of fondue and a bottle of wine at the Village Cheese shop in Mattituck). I told him about the fireplace and the L-shaped bar with two beer taps that change regularly. “I’m in, let’s go,” he said. We looked at our calendars and marked it down for a night last week after we went to see Endgame at BAM. The production was great—John Turturro, and Max Casella were terrific, and as my friend Steven said, How can you miss a chance to see Elaine Stritch in a garbage can? Indeed. We headed over to Black Mountain for a late dinner discussing Beckett and got into the details of Waiting for Godot and Endgame, the parallels between Pozzo and Lucky, Hamm and Clov, and the similar themes that Beckett explores in these plays—power, loneliness, and the drama (or lack thereof) of living out our time on this earth. By the time we got over to Black Mountain, and found the front porch occupied by friends sipping wine and snacking on charcuterie, happily bundled in wool wraps and hats, we definitely had the beginnings of some sort of a Beckett thesis. Again, it was a rather cold night, and we were happy to get inside. We took a table toward the back by the fireplace, which unfortunately was not blazing that night. But somehow the proximity to the potential warmth and the smell of the already smoldered ash did the trick. We ordered a bottle of Oregon’s Sipino Pinot Noir (2004, $37), which was fine, though rather thin to my taste. (Turns out we were served a 2006 instead of the 2004, which might explain it though I don’t know enough about Oregon vintages to know, so if you do, please share your two cents below) and the smoked salmon crostini—pretty simple, but the bread was toasted just enough so you weren’t risking cracking a tooth and the salmon was piled on quite generously. The crostini also come with a warm crock or ricotta topped with almonds and honey that’s nice little add-on.
We poured a few more glasses of wine with our next course—a house charcuterie plate—a wooden board piled up with cured meats (proscuitto and sopressata), paté, a little egg cup filled with nice Dijon mustard and as the menu reads, “the usual olives,” which I thought was pretty funny, though these olives were also studded with caperberries, which made them unusual to me. The charcuterie plate also comes with a dish filled with baguette slices and that great sausage bread. “There’s sausage in this bread!” Craig said, with a thrill, like a kid who’d just been visited by a very generous tooth fairy. It’s a simple surprise, but it goes a long way. Now I realize it’s sort of gilding the lily to eat sausage bread with your plate of cured meats, but hey, why not? I was reminded of a line from Endgame: “You're on earth, there's no cure for that!” That’s certainly one way of looking at it. So gild that lily. Have sausage on your sausage bread, have a pot of fondue, and spend a night in a little log cabin on Hoyt Street called Black Mountain Wine House.