By Candy Sagon
Sunday, July 5, 2009
** (out of four stars)
Sound Check: 68 decibels (Conversation is easy)
The attractive woman sitting alone at the bar at Kybecca Wine Bar & Shop in Fredericksburg was eating a light dinner and chatting with the chef in the open kitchen. How nice, I thought, as the waiter showed us to our table: This place attracts singles as well as couples and groups.
Later, as I returned from the restroom -- the place where I surreptitiously jot down notes about the place I'm reviewing -- I was shocked to see the same woman standing at our table chatting with my husband before walking away. Not that I was jealous or anything, but what the ... ?
Turns out she's one-third of the husband-wife-brother trio who own this charming new restaurant in Fredericksburg's historic downtown district. Most nights, at least one of the three is on the premises, helping to serve, talking with customers and generally adding to the warmth and affability of this sophisticated little cafe.
Kyle Snyder, 41, Rebecca Thomas Snyder, 38, and Matt Thomas, 32, began this venture by opening a tiny wine store four years ago. They added a few outdoor tables and started serving simple dishes that could be made with a panini press or toaster oven. When the mortgage company next door moved, they expanded into the space and hired 30-year-old chef Sarah Kapus.
As Kyle Snyder, a former Marine Corps drill instructor, puts it: His wife's the brains; he's the brawn. She designed the 54-seat interior, which opened in October, and he built it, from pouring the concrete countertop for the 12-seat communal table to welding the metal in the kitchen. With its exposed-brick wall, red and black accents and quirky collection of local artwork (June featured paintings of quizzical dogs), the effect is both fun and chic.
Obviously, wine plays a big part in the restaurant's offerings. Along one wall is an Enomatic self-serve wine system; customers can use a special debit card to pay for taste-size, half-glass or full-glass portions of a couple of dozen different wines. Prices run from as low as $1.20 an ounce to $10 an ounce. If you'd love to try the highly touted Paul Hobbs cabernet from California, for example, but can't afford the $170-plus for a bottle, you can buy a one-ounce taste for $6.
Or you can order from the long, eclectic list of wines by the glass or bottle. Not a wine lover? There's an equally long list of boutique ales and beers to try.
Before I get to the daily menu offerings, let me just say a few words about Kybecca's Sunday brunch menu: This, my friends, is why you get into your cars and suffer the drive on Interstate 95 to get to Fredericksburg.
Sit outside under the bright red awning, sip a glass of chilled prosecco and dig into a plate of slow-braised corned beef hash topped with a poached egg and a drizzle of vinaigrette (one of Kyle's home recipes). Or try one of the crisp, yeast-risen waffles sprinkled with local berries. Or a crepe filled with spicy, locally made chorizo and scrambled eggs.
Don't worry about pigging out. Afterward, you can walk it off at the melancholic Confederate cemetery nearby, or at the much livelier Fredericksburg Area Museum.
Or you can do what we did on another occasion: Drive down on a Saturday, see the sights, then repair to Kybecca for wine and food.
The menu is tapas-style, small plates of food designed for sharing and for matching with wine. Because the four of us were starving, we ordered nine plates, and then a 10th after my friends wanted seconds of the hearty roasted eggplant muffuletta panino made with olive spread, braised dandelion greens and smoked mozzarella.
Two other favorites: the bowl of plump mussels in Thai red curry sauce, and the tender bison and blue cheese sliders, made from grass-fed bison raised in Culpeper. Even my friend who swore she hated blue cheese changed her mind when she took a tiny taste of the creamy sauce.
We were most surprised at how much we loved a simple dish of roast asparagus with a romesco sauce of oven-roasted tomatoes, roasted peppers and sherry vinaigrette. We used up two baskets of bread trying to get every last red scrap. And then there was the uber-rich, panko-topped mac-and-cheese, made with bow-tie pasta, aged cheddar and pecorino. Let's just say we embarrassed ourselves scraping out the golden crusty bits stuck to the side of the dish.
There were some clunkers, such as the Wagyu beef panino. We couldn't even taste the few slices of beef under everything else that was piled on, including roasted shiitake mushrooms, cilantro mayo, caramelized onions and sharp cheddar.
Desserts also were a mixed bag. The pound cake panino filled with Nutella and sliced strawberries was pure, sweet genius. The four kinds of truffles -- spicy walnut, pistachio, chopped chocolate and cocoa with cayenne -- were lovely. The chocolate-dipped dates with mascarpone? Bad idea. The chocolate falls off; the mascarpone's messy and adds nothing to the flavor. It's just a big letdown, even when matched with the recommended glass of Madeira. Ditto for the disappointing vanilla pot de creme. Where, I wondered, were some lighter, seasonal fruit desserts?
Service at Kybecca is generally attentive, although with a large crowd I could see that the staff might be stretched thin. Still, our waiters on all three visits were personable and well versed in both the food and the wine. The suggestions they made for wines by the glass to match our food were so successful, we ended up buying a couple of bottles at the shop before heading back to I-95 and the long drive home.
Open: dinner Tuesday through Thursday 5 to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday 3 p.m. to midnight, Sunday 4 to 8 p.m.; Sunday brunch 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. All major credit cards. Street parking. No smoking. Prices: small plates $3 to $14.