Daryl Wine Bar and Restaurant, New Brunswick, NJ

Daryl Wine Bar and Restaurant has been around for a couple of years. On the face of it, it’s exactly the kind of place I like – decent food, small plates, modern space and a good wine selection. Add to that the fact that I’ve read a number of pretty decent reviews for the place and consequently I’ve been meaning to go there for a while. Unfortunately, I just don’t find myself going into New Brunswick much. However lately I’m finding myself bored with the Princeton restaurant scene, if you can call it a scene. There are only so many times you can keep going to Elements, Eno Terra or One 53.

I finally got to Daryl recently on a Thursday night. The place was pretty empty. I was assured by the waitress that it was an anomaly, probably due to it being just after the holidays. The restaurant is attached to a wine shop which is a pretty cool idea. If you like the wine you drank at the restaurant you can go buy a bottle (or more) to take home.

My first impression of the restaurant, apart from the lack of guests, was that it was a beautiful, clean, modern space. Exactly what I was expecting and wanted. I particularly loved the high chairs at the table and the corner couch for more relaxed dining. Having said that, one of the light bulbs on the light above our table was out.

The wine slection was pretty good. They actually had 3 different priorats. Any place that has any priorat let alone 3 is good by me. With wine you actually have a few options. You can buy a tasting selection, a bottle or that night we could buy from their retail store list at wine store prices. I ended up with a priorat that was only $31, though it was a little young. I love the idea of buying at retail.

The menu itself looked good. Nice, eclectic selection. We ended up ordering peppers stuffed with short ribs and pierogies for the appetizer. They were pretty good, overall nice flavor, though the short rib was a little tart from the wine. For the main course we decided to order the paella to share. This included lobster, shrimp, calamari and mussels. The seafood was beautifully cooked. The shrimp was fabulous, nice and sweet. The calamari in the paella was surprising. It was fried! Not what I was expecting. The paella itself was not flavorful enough, it suffered from being under-seasoned and also most of the seafood was placed on top on the rice rather than being cooked into the rice. As a result the flavors of all this wonderful seafood didn’t build into the paella. Unfortunate.

Prices were quite reasonable. Retail price on the wine definately helped.

I think I would return, especially due to the wine selection and probably for the apps. Overall a good restaurant, though they need to pay more attention to the details, particularly the balance of flavors and seasoning. Do that and it will become a must go destination.

UPDATE: March 2012
Finally went back to Daryl Wine Bar. My previous visit left me underwehelmed and this visit left me with a much stronger impression. And it isn’t pretty.

Let’s start with what I liked. I like the wine options they have. You can order 2oz, 4oz, 6oz glasses or bottles. I love trying different wines with my meal, and 4ozs is just the right amount to taste 3 wines without getting that slightly tipsy feeling. And you can match just the perfect wine with each course. Great idea, wish I saw it in more restaurants!

Now the bad news and unfortunately it’s the food. The food as described on the menu is really enticing. It’s a pity that the real item fails to live up to the promise. Nothing we had was great, unfortunately some of it was plain bad. The seafood dumplings in coconut broth was an interesting concept with a nice light broth, however the filling in the dumpling was non-descript in flavor, and in terms of texture made me question whether it was seafood. It was dry and hard. I ordered the special as my main course that night – pasta with pulled pork, mussels and clams. What the heck was I thinking? I guess I wasn’t when I ordered it. This was a train wreck of a dish. It had some asian type sauce but the combination just didn’t work. Overall looking at the menu it seems like the chef is trying too hard and doesn’t know how to take a concept through to execution. I would suggests editing ingredients would be a good start.

I don’t think I will return again.

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