Under deconstruction: Chef Allen’s

Wine list: 101. Graphic: Sam Riepe

When you’ve been around for a while, like chef Allen Susser, you might be forgiven by your multitude of fans if you fell into a relaxed groove, and more or less dozed comfortably on your King-of-the-Mango-Gang throne. But Mr. Susser is not an afternoon-nap type of guy (even if many of his customers are), so he’s done the exact opposite with Chef Allen’s, his landmark restaurant. Tucked into a desultory strip mall, the place needed a little updating to attract a more, how shall I put this, frisky crowd. One time, the hostess, instead of asking a party of four “How many dining tonight?,” slipped and said, “How many in your party are dying tonight?” Three of them raised their hands. True story.

So the place gets a face-lift, the menu is streamlined to reflect current tastes and the wine list gets pared down from Leviticus-sized to two pages, plus a one-page “reserve” list. And there are some pretty good buys to be had, starting with the $40 Goldwater Sauvignon Blanc, an ’07 bottle from Marlborough, New Zealand. New Zealand is the Sav Blanc hotspot everyone is screaming about right now, but there are still some incredible buys in the medium range. It’ll pair nicely with the mussels starter, which is prepared with Fume Blanc (Sav’s California moniker). It’s always nice, if possible, to sip the same wine that’s been used in the cooking. While it retails for about $17, it drinks much richer. Another good, inexpensive white, is the ’06 Viognier from Loredona. At $35, it’s a little fruity, maybe a little melon aroma and flavors, and will go perfectly with spicy dishes like the conch mixto ceviche, which is made with scotch bonnet peppers, the second hottest in the world. Both of these wines will work well with most of the seafood dishes on the revamped menu, as will the ’06 Chardonnay from Heller Estate ($45, $21 or so retail). But stick with the Chard if you’re going to order the wood-grilled lobster. Its depth will play well with the luxe lobster, a mere $32 for a 1 1/2 pounder.

There are a couple of decently-priced reds, but they appear in the higher brackets, like the excellent ’04 Betts and Scholl Hermitage, which is produced in conjunction with the legendary Rhone producer, Jean-Louis Chave. At $105, it tops out my budget, but it’s very hard to find this deep yet fun-loving Syrah-heavy wine locally, and if you do it will cost anywhere from $60-80. Plus Dennis Scholl is a Miami-based art collector, and he has managed to put some real artists on his wine labels, in this case, L.A.’s Mark Grotjahn. Any red meat will do here. Another classic is the ’03 Brunello di Montalcino from Castello Romitorio. Yes, ’03 is a suspect year for Brunello (but of course you already knew that), but Florentine artist Sandro Chia has been perfecting his Brunello for over twenty years. This $50-plus retail bottle will also go well with red meat, but also try it with the mahi-mahi or even the grouper. Isn’t it time you took some risks? Remember, nobody lives forever.

Chef Allen’s, 19088 NE 29th Ave.; 305-935-2900

Published: 9/08

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