With a Wine-Friendly Menu, Camerata Ups the Bar for Houston Wine Bars

Categories: Wine Time

best_prosciutto_houston.jpg
Photo by Jeremy Parzen.
Prosciutto, whether from Parma or San Daniele, is perhaps the world's greatest wine bar fare. Slicing it correctly is an art that requires experience and patience.
There's an old and chiasmatic adage often uttered by the great wine lovers of Europe: No wine without food and no food without wine. To those who truly love wine, no glass is complete without the complement of food.

In America, the utterance of the binomial wine bar seems to elide wine's natural companion. Wine bars are places you go to drink wine, whether paired with food or not. After all, that's the American way, isn't it? In America, the proverbial wine is not for culling the nuance of flavors from a given dish and aiding the digestion by means of balanced alcohol and acidity. No, in our country, it's for gettin' yer drink on. As Merle Haggard sang it, wine take me away/where I can lose myself.

Without naming any names, it's not a stretch to say that the overwhelming majority of "wine bars" in Houston are simply glorified bars -- and often singles bars -- where wine is featured as the "wine" of choice.

But today a new bar has been set for the Houston wine bar scene by classically trained opera singer David Keck's extraordinary Camerata on Westheimer (adjacent to Paulie's), named after the celebrated Camerata de' Bardi of Renaissance Florence, a music salon cited by many as the birthplace of lyric opera.

australia_wine_white.jpg
Photo by Jeremy Parzen.
The Brokenwood 2011 Hunter Valley Sémillon from Australia was bright and fresh by the glass last week. Driven by its gorgeous minerality, it was a great example of how Sémillon is "Australia's gift to the wine world," as Master of Wine and author Jancis Robinson has put it.
The by-the-glass program at Camerata changes daily and it offers guests an ample selection of European and domestic wines in half and full pours. Wines that have been opened from the previous day are discounted with no strings attached.

Bottles are organized by weight (in other words, light-, medium-bodied, or rich) and among other categories, it includes wines that are "potentially funky," where funk is a gauge of a bottle's low added sulfur content.

Most of the wines are organically or biodynamically farmed and many are "natural" wines (grown without the use of chemicals and fermented with naturally occurring yeast).

But the thing that really sets the enogastronomic experience at Camerata from the rest of Houston's "wine bars" is the simple but extremely thoughtful wine-friendly food options.

No, no stinky, petroleum-based truffle oil here.

wine_pairing_best_houston.jpg
Photo by Jeremy Parzen.
No truffle oil here. Just a classic selection of wholesome cheeses and charcuterie, ideal for gnoshing while sipping a glass of Australian Sémillon by Brokenwood or Santa Clara Grenache by Bonny Doon (two recent by the glass offerings).
Keck, a Master Sommelier candidate who lived in New York City while studying at the Juilliard School and who has traveled the world as an opera singer, brings a new and fresh sensibility to the wine bar concept here in Houston.

Absent are the shock-and-awe menu items that pepper the menus of the majority of Houston wine bars.

Instead, his staff delivers intelligently selected cheeses, expertly sliced prosciutto di Parma (not an easy task nor one regularly performed competently in Houston), and other artisanal charcuterie (La Quercia from Iowa and Fra' Mani from California) -- classical wine bar fare intended to accentuate the nuances of the wine selections.

It's the type of wine bar where any wine professional or true gourmet -- from anywhere in the world -- would find her/himself at home: A great selection of wines by the glass and a focused wine-friendly menu that actually allows the guest to enjoy the wine.

Chapeau bas, David and team! It was high time that someone raised the (wine) bar.

Location Info

Camerata at Paulie's

1834 Westheimer Road, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant


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4 comments
carriebwc
carriebwc

Okay, please define what you mean by a "single's bar."  Is there really such a thing in this day and age?  They seem like some urban legend of the 1970s to me.

conebaby
conebaby topcommenter

I love Camerata, and David Keck is just about the nicest cat you'll ever meet. I had no idea he was a trained opera singer! We just talked vino. Thanks for writing this up, Jeremy! I've been wondering about the food (yes, I only went to drink--I ate next door!) and now can't wait to head back.

Nebbio
Nebbio

Sounds good; more like 13 Celsius than Solea or Sonoma and other places that are really bars with more wines than usual, but nothing outstanding or hard to source.

LaurenK
LaurenK

I don’t really get this. It may be a great wine bar, but looking online, the food menu consists of exactly four pretty standard cheeses and four sliced meats. They may be great—I don’t know—but how is that “raising the bar”? There is nice charcuterie & cheese at a million wine-focused places around town, many of which also serve other food.

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