Knock Out 

Good Enough to Make You Do Something Rash

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After a forkful of Bar Avignon's Dagoba dark chocolate cake with bourbon caramel and a light sprinkle of coarse salt, my first impulse was to punch someone in the face. Not because I was angry, but because it was so damn good. This isn't my normal behavior—I generally dislike chocolate cake—but this concoction rocked me, as did the rest of Bar Avignon's elegant menu. How dare they?

I suspect face punching wouldn't fly in this mannered bar and bottle shop. Dimly lit with quaint bare bulbs and candles, the space is more suited for fondling than fighting. Dark wood tones and a baby blue bar lend Bar Avignon the conspiratorial atmosphere of a love affair, even if that love affair happens to be between you and a bottle of Domaine des Terres Dorées Beaujolais.

When I first sat down in Bar Avignon with my wife, Kitty, I was skeptical. With 18 items (mostly small plates) and a meat and cheese selection, it seemed it would be difficult to be sated by the humble kitchen.

Caution be damned, we started our meal with a diminutive wedge of Shropshire Blue cheese, a few thin slices of sopresatta, grain mustard, and Buzzing Canyon honey, accompanied by slices of little t baguette. The first bite of baguette, smeared with blue cheese and drizzled with honey, was sensational. As sticky, deep honey sweetness added weight to the creamy texture, the tang of the cheese became a sharp counterpoint. If meat had emotions, the sopressatta would've been jealous—a perfectly adequate, wine-cured salumi being neglected for its far more engaging tablemate.

We followed the meat and cheese with meatballs and a slow-roast pork panino with aioli, spicy pickled peppers, and provolone. The four meatballs, sharing a plate with romesco and Pimentos de Padrón, were nicely crisped on the outside. Biting into them revealed a warm and toothsome interior, mildly spicy, with savory roundness. A romesco dollop added pleasant, acidic tomato tones to the golf ball-sized morsels. The tiny, fire-roasted peppers lurking on the plate added even more depth when popped into the mix.

Somehow, a bit of South Carolina managed to get into the decidedly Eurocentric panino. More than anything, it tasted like a barbecue pulled-pork sandwich, complete with a vinegary twang. Neat trick. Unfortunately the provolone was lost in the mélange, though it added ooze to the texture.

Incidentally, the provolone shines in Bar Avignon's grilled cheese, inundating the crumb of little t's sweet Sally Lunn bread. Paired with tomato soup, it's a rainy day cure.

We ended our meal with the chocolate cake—every bite like falling into a salty well of cocoa and burnished sugar. As we paid our bill, Kitty and I realized we were completely stuffed. Quelle surprise!

Bar Avignon is, more than anything, a wine bar. But they've taken a sommelier's view of the food. Not necessarily complex or dynamic, these selections offered distinct and robust flavor. I think that's the point. These are simple dishes that stand up to the fireworks of Bar Avignon's wine selection—some 82 bottles, 29 of which can be purchased by the glass. Those ignorant of wine will find help in the mellow and friendly staff. You can also try impressing your dining companion by using words like "nose" and "terroir" while sniffing and slurping your way through a bottle. Who knows, it might get you laid. Just don't ruin it by punching someone in the face.

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