The best place to hide a wine bar

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If you really wanted to hide a sophisticated little wine bar where nobody would find it, where would you put it? Eden Prairie? Hilltop?

How about, in the back room of The Newsroom on the Nicollet Mall?

Taste Wine Bar, in The Newsroom, 990 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, 612-343-0073.

You could easily walk into The Newsroom., a high-decibel newspaper-themed restaurant plastered with newspaper headlines and packed with video monitors, spend the evening dining on deep-fried Brie curds, chicken Caesar salad and coconut shrimp, and never have an inkling that there’s a terrific little wine bar called Taste in the back, with a completely different menu and wine selection. You could even search the Newsroom web site and not find a single mention of it. And if you came on a Monday or Tuesday, all you would find is a darkened room.

On a Wednesday night when we visited, there was one lonely soul at the bar, and nobody in the little mezzanine hideaway where we settled in on a couch. Is it always this empty, I asked our server. Yes, she said. Nobody knows about it. We could have canoodled all evening without anyone – except our server – intruding on our privacy.

The list of wines by the glass – actually small carafes – includes a few familiar names: a J. Lohr Chardonnay ($13.50/$25), a Rodney Strong Cabernet ($14/$26), but most are more obscure: a Quinto dos Grillos from Portugal ($13.50/$25), a Salneval Albarino ($11/$20) from Spain, a really delightful Ruche di Castagnole from Italy, (imported by Bonny Doon, ($8.75/ $15.50). The prices seem a bit high, until you notice the size: the smaller pour is eight ounces, and the larger is 16 ounces – the equivalent of three glasses at most places.

The menu is built around tastes -bite-sized portions of cheeses, hot and cold appetizers and sweets priced from $1.95 to $3.95 The cheeses ($1.95-$2.25) are well-chosen – a nicely ripened wedge of Humboldt Fog goat cheese, a creamy blue Fourme D’Ambert, an Italian truffled goat cheese and several more. The only big blunder is the bread, ($1.95 for a quarter baguette, $3.50 for a half) with no crust, and the soft, cottony texture that comes from being stored in plastic.

The cold starters run the gamut from a tuna ceviche, (four tasting spoons for $3.95), coarsely chopped chunks marinated in a habanero cilantro vinaigrette to a beet salad with micro greens and a sherry Roquefort dressing ($2.55), while the hot starters range from asparagus risotto croquettes with grilled tomato sauce ($2.65) to a sake-infused scallop served with green tea soba noodles ($2.95). Some items were memorable (like the pear carpaccio with blue cheese crisp ($2.95), and others were not – like the cross-cut coriander cumin fries with a gorgonzola cream sauce ($3.95), but the pricing is very reasonable and the overall batting average is pretty high. Weekdays, the happy hour specials (offered till 6:30), include a featured wine and a selection of draft beers for $3 a glass, plus mini-sandwicbes and appetizers for $2-4.

We passed on the desserts, but the options include a chocolate wafer with chai ice cream, blueberry blini with lemon crème fraiche, and a blue cheese and port mousse with pear (all $2.95).

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