Today we are going to discuss a place that has become near and dear to my heart. A couple of years ago Red or White was a retail wine shop with a few tables, a small bar and a limited menu, nestled on Old Shell Road across from the famed Dew Drop Inn. Chef Arwen Rice was gaining fans with a “non multa, sed multum” approach to cuisine (“not many, but much”), with tons of flavor coming from a small kitchen.
Upon the closing of True Midtown Kitchen in the former Bakery building on Dauphin Street, Red or White saw the opportunity to trade in its smallish but charming Old Shell Road location for a much more spacious environment, just a long walk or short drive away. The new space came with a larger kitchen and seating space that thankfully let the wine retail aspect breathe while the restaurant was allowed to flourish into a much larger operation with a fully staffed kitchen.
It was at this point we got a chance to see Chef Arwen stretch her legs a bit as the menu began to develop into what has become a solid collection of mainstays with highly praised daily specials.
Red or White is a place where you can order wine by the glass or really find a great value by purchasing a bottle and paying the $5 corkage fee. This is my favorite way to enjoy dinner, and a recent Wednesday was an example of a typical date night that began with a bottle of Poujol Rosé. This is one of my favorite rosés for the value, and I don’t even think about what I will pair with it because I am going to drink it anyway. A smarter man would find it best with shrimp, lighter chicken dishes or salads.
While drinking our first glass and solving the world’s problems, my date, Catherine, and I listened to the specials and were all in. As I said before, I am a big fan of the menu but the specials here can be breathtaking. We began with tonight’s potstickers ($12).Yes, I said potstickers. Spare-rib potstickers. If you can imagine baby bok choy with ginger and forest mushrooms and a soy chili oil dipping sauce, then you get an idea of how things were shaping up. To be honest, I wasn’t wild about the first bite and then I was ravenous for the rest.
A side item my lovely date rarely misses is the ravioli ($5). The wild mushroom-stuffed pasta is enough, but it’s the roasted red pepper cream sauce that seals the deal. It’s actually a touch on the spicy side and as close to perfect as a sauce of this kind can get.
The Chef’s Special Pizza ($12) of the evening was unavoidable. Just saying it is a mouthful. The chalkboard was almost too small to contain the words. A cilantro jalapeño sauce was the base for roasted cauliflower and potatoes with chorizo and manchego cheese for an out-of-this-world combination. The only reason we had some for the ride home was because we had so much other food.
In the past I’ve been partial to the bacon-wrapped dates. I’ve enjoyed the antipasto board (complete with Mediterranean white beans) and the amazing roasted chicken board with spicy olives, cheese and tomato. On this night I was so excited to see they’d finally added a charcuterie board ($18).
This is the kind of thing that is right up my alley. I am a fan of treating the charcuterie as an entree, selfishly not sharing with the rest of the table. I can say this is my favorite in the city. The chicken-liver mousse is a favorite of mine. Their country pate is perfect with the crusty bread. Cheese curds on the side were a nice touch. But my favorite part was the terrine.
Looking at the cross sections of the slabs one could detect pistachios in the mix but I later learned the nuts were accompanied by duck and cherry. The flavors were so interesting I hated to polish it off at the table. I took a little home for a “day after” snack and enjoyed it even more the second time.
Chef Arwen Rice has already made a name for herself, but her star is rising. The short version of her bio is that she grew up in New Mexico, attended culinary school in Denver and married her college sweetheart, Shane, from Bayou La Batre, who dragged her down to our fair city a year or two after college. She at least gets her ties to the Gulf Coast honestly.
I should say that I certainly appreciate the variety of wines that Red or White has to offer as well as the knowledgeable, friendly staff who are glad to help. The price is right and the selection is vast. But as a cuisine editor, I find the food almost overshadows the retail side of things. Certainly they scratch each other’s back. The success speaks well for both.
My only wish is that the wine bar/restaurant portion stayed open later, and I wouldn’t have my feelings hurt if they served lunch or brunch. While the store opens at 10:30 a.m. Monday through Saturday, the bar opens at 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and closes at 8:30 p.m. weeknights, 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The whole operation is closed on Sundays.
If you have not been to Red or White or haven’t visited in a while, it is time for foodies to make them one of your regular stops. Chef Arwen and her staff are making magic over there, and I assure you it isn’t the wine talking.