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July 01. 2014 7:29PM

Our Gourmet: Manchester locale is comfy with a cool vibe

YOU WON’T FIND one of Manchester’s best hangout places downtown, but on Second Street tucked away in a plaza.

Unwined, open for more than 10 years, is known for their extensive wine offerings, but less so for their varied menu, which features twists on American classics, small bites and vegan and gluten-free offerings.

I had been to Unwined several times when it opened more than 10 years ago, but not in at least five years; this was The Dining Companion’s first trip. I was eager to see if I would have the same great experience I had previously, while also easing TDC into the world of wine.

When we walked into Unwined, we were warmly greeted as if we were visiting someone’s home. The atmosphere could definitely be described as retro lounge. The dimly lit dining room features heavy, dark fabrics and comfortable furniture. The live piano music just added to the cool, and somewhat romantic, vibe.

As the name suggests, Unwined is first and foremost a wine bar, and is a must visit for any budding or seasoned wine aficionado. The list of wines runs the gamut from Syrahs to Merlots, Rieslings to Chardonnays. Want to try something new or are undecided? The wine flights are a great option. TDC ordered a flight and was able to try three different red wines. If you want to know more about a particular wine, you are in the right place, as the staff is extremely knowledgeable.

After we chose our wines, we shifted our attention to the food menu. If you are stopping by for a glass (or two) of wine with a few friends, the shared appetizers would be a great choice. They include the Antipasti Plate and Cheese Fondue, which are priced per person. Because it was the just the two of us, we went the traditional route and ordered two appetizers.

I chose the Butternut Squash Ravioli ($10), filled with squash and topped with a brown butter sauce, dried cranberries and ground nuts. The pasta was tender, but the squash filling was nondescript and the dish was dominated by the tartness of the cranberries. It was a pleasant start to the meal. But the dish lacked seasoning, which would have taken it from good to great.

TDC opted for the Pulled Pork Flatbread ($10) after he was told his first choice, the Crab and Corn Chowder, was not available. The oven-baked flatbread is very much like a thin-crust pizza. The flatbread, which was crisp without being crunchy, was topped with slow-cooked pork, Gouda cheese, and red onion. Drizzled over the top was a whiskey barbecue sauce with a vinegar base. TDC was not expecting the thin slices of green apple that also topped the flatbread. It added a pleasurable, sweet contrast to the more biting and slightly sour barbecue sauce.

Both the TDC and I chose chicken dishes for our entrée. A menu feature at Unwined is the flexibility to order a small or large portion of the entrée of your choice. As a light eater and loather of leftovers, I wish this option was offered at more restaurants.

I ordered the Pretzel Crusted Chicken ($14/$18), baked chicken billed as having a crispy outer crust and drizzled with a honey mustard glaze, served with cheddar mashed potato and grilled asparagus. The chicken was moist, but I was disappointed that the crust wasn’t as crunchy as I expected and didn’t taste like pretzels. In fact, the coating didn’t seem to add any salt to the dish, which I found surprising. The star of the dish was the honey mustard glaze, a nicely balanced sweet and tangy concoction, which if bottled, I would buy and put on everything.

For his entrée, TDC selected the BBQ Stuffed Chicken Breast ($14/$18). The chicken is served with grilled zucchini and summer squash, all served on a bed of rice. The dish is advertised as being stuffed with cornbread and cranberry stuffing, however, the stuffing was sitting underneath the chicken rather than being stuffed inside it. The BBQ had such a light tint that TDC thought it was gravy upon first glance. Tastewise, he said the sauce was fairly bland, with the majority of the flavor coming from the pepper that was mixed in. He found his chicken to be a bit dry. The best part of this meal, he said, was the sweet cranberry and corn bread stuffing.

The Tuxedo Mousse Cake ($7) was TDC’s choice for dessert. This mix of dark and white chocolate mousse is sandwiched between a chocolate cake base and a chocolate ganache top. The white chocolate was extremely rich, tantamount to a frosting. The dark chocolate was similar to a standard mousse, however, not quite as airy. If you like your desserts rich and sweet, TDC said this is a great pick.

Grandma’s Chocolate Mint Dessert ($7) captured my attention because of its name and my expectation that it would be a refreshing conclusion to the evening. The dessert, a mix of a creamy mint ice cream filling, chocolate chunks, graham crackers and whipped cream, was addictive. I kept going back to my plate for more, which is always a good sign. I would be happy to try any of Grandma’s other recipes after trying this one.

In addition to appreciating the restaurant’s atmosphere and variety of the menu, the service was great and the staff was friendly. We felt the prices were reasonable and in line, if not less expensive than other similar places we’ve visited.

Whether it is date night or you are headed out with a few friends after work, Unwined is a unique place where you’ll not only feel right at home, but you’ll also feel like you are hanging out at one of the coolest places in the city.



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