Monday, August 18, 2008

Finding a pearl in an unlikely place

Category: Food and Restaurants

Once in awhile, if you are willing to take a chance, you can find a pearl of a restaurant in an unlikely place. That is what happened when I stumbled upon The Bank Restaurant and Wine Bar
during my recent solo vacation adventure to Spring Green, Wisconsin.

Arrived at my dingy motel this past Wednesday, the Spring Valley Inn, I was hungry and wanted to find a local place to have a nice meal before it was time to go to see The Belle's Strategem at American Player's Theater (an outdoor theater in a natural acoustical bowl). There was a quarter page ad in the community magazine inside my motel room for The Bank Restaurant and Wine Bar. The ad didn't intrigue me so much as the fact that it was a wine bar in the middle of nowhere. It seemed a little lofty type of place for this rural community. Curiosity got the best of me, and off I went to check the place out.

The signage at the "The Bank" was rather obscure and I actually went up and down Jefferson Street several times before I finally spotted the place. I got a spot close to the door and hopped out of the car. The charm factor increased appreciably with every step towards the building. It really was a bank at some point! The thick stone walls, the double entry doors, the original bank name etched in the granite near the roofline all added to the feel of walking into a bank.

I entered and was pleasantly surprised to find the original floors, ceilings, crown & dental molding, teller's cage, and even the vault in orignal condition. Yet, it was a restaurant. Faye greeted me and told me that it would be a little while before she could seat me. It certainly didn't seem to be crowded and I saw empty tables, but I was willing to wait. I explained that I needed to get out in time to head to the theater and was assured that this would not be a problem. Faye invited me to sit in the lovely waiting area directly in front of her podium which was an inviting living room type sitting area, or to sit at the bar. I chose to sit in one of the half a dozen or so upholstered seats at the small bar.

Once seated, a young lady inquired as to what I might like to drink. My eyes were already taking in the many bottles of wine and so I asked to see the wine list. I was handed two legal side pieces of card stock, each printed on both sides. One list for whites and one for reds. The white list was barely glanced at before it was set aside so that I could study the red list. Not many names were familiar, so I asked the young lady, who turned out be the FOH manager Dani, to tell me some of her favorites. She came alive as she described four wines to me. I went with her highest recommendation.

While she was pouring my wine in the correct size and shaped glass, I asked if it was permissible to eat at the bar and was thrilled that I could stay put and have my meal and wine too. Dani and I conversed easily as I sipped the 2002 Australian Shiraz called "The Gate" from McLaren Winery. I couldn't wait for my flat iron steak in rootbeer-ginger reduction with curried rice and sauteed zucchini and summer squash to arrive. I knew the wine would pair well with my meal.

When the meal arrived, I was again pleasantly surprised by the artistic presentation and perfect portion size. Dani politely left so that I could enjoy my meal. I savored each perfectly prepared bite. It was a tantalizing mix of flavors which the wine complemented splendidly.

After I was through with my meal Dani returned and I learned that the menu changes each and every Thursday, which was the exact thing to say to me to ensure that I would return the following day. After all, I had her other wine recommendations to try, and if the menu would be different too, then why not! Before I left, Faye gave me a tour of the three dining rooms, vault dining for a party of six, and some history of the building.

I returned Thursday, this time greeted by Bob, a friendly welcoming man standing at the host's podium where Faye had been the night before. Rather than sitting at the bar, I took a table in one of the three dining rooms. Cathrine greeted me warmly after a few minutes and I started with one of the other three wines recommended by Dani the night before (2005 Argentinian Cabernet Sauvignon "Cueva de las Manos Reserva) . I ordered immediately, a salad: "European field greens tossed with baby spinach, tomato, cucumber and red onion, dressed with sherry vinaigrette." and a chicken dish with bacon, red rice pilaf and creamy alfredo sauce.

The timing of the courses was just right. The salad was dinner sized and not large enough to interfere with my appetite for the entree to come. Ample, but not too much time between courses allowed for a bit of relaxation and friendly conversation with Cathrine. The meal again, was artistically presented (see the photo in my vacation album) and modestly proportioned leaving me pleasantly satisfied and not overfed.

After the main course, I switched wines to another of Dani's recommendations (Three Graces Pinot Noir). Cathrine suggested "Chocolate with Cherry Surprise" for dessert, and I went for it. It is described as "dark and white chocolates mousses covered with a dark chocolate shell and layered with a chocolate covered cherry surprise."

All of the dining room worker bees seemed to be women. The food runner and even Erica, who was busy bussing and maticulously resetting tables. Everyone was friendly and polite. As I wrote in a previous blog, dining alone is often an awkward experience. Not so at The Bank. Everyone made me feel welcome and were most eager to chat.

I could not have asked for a better dining experience either night. My thanks and compliments to all who make The Bank, a fine dining experience which is not to be missed if you are anywhere near Spring Green, Wisconsin.

Restuarant Website:

Overall rating on a 1-5 scale: 5
Food: 5
Service: 5
Ambience: 5
Hospitality: 5