Be Still My Heart

Fredric Koeppel
Originally published August 01, 2007

I recently received a link to the website of a new restaurant in Cambridge, Mass. This is T.W. Food, an amalgam of such vibrant dedication, preciousness and (it looks like) sheer genius that it makes one dizzy just to read about it. The restaurant is the brain-child of Tim Wiechmann, the chef, and his wife Bronwyn, the manager. They are young (33 and 29) and seem to be energetic, gifted and ferociously sincere. The premise is ingredients and wines that range from simple organic to bio-dynamic and the creation of dishes that reflect synergy among ingredients, locality and wine. The philosophy (or slogan) is “From Seed to Plate,” with a focus on “sustainable and fairly treated ingredients.” The skeptic in me, I’m almost ashamed to admit, says, “How unfairly can you treat a potato.” (O.K., that’s unfair; the menu looks fabulous.)

The menu changes every day, at least a portion of the menu, and is supposed to be posted to the website (twfoodrestaurant) by 10 a.m. The offerings are limited: five starters and a selection of oysters; six entrees and three six-course “chef decides” tasting menus, one vegetarian; three desserts and a selection of cheeses. Prices range from $10 to $15 for starters, $25 to $30 for entrees (tasting menus are $55 — one is vegetarian — or $85 with wine), and $8 for dessert.

Check out the website to see what the intriguing food is like — the menu is heavy on the earnest descriptive style of the 1990s — because what I really want to focus on is the unique wine policy.

Now we’ve all dined in restaurants that field impressive or even oppressive wine lists that sport page after page of chardonnays from all over the world and cabernet sauvignon-based wines from all the world with an emphasis on the Big Names and Labels anointed by ratings of 90 and above from The Wine Spectator and The Wine Advocate. Such profusion makes it difficult to chose a wine for dinner, even for the experienced though perhaps not wealthy patron.

The wine list at T.W. Food begins from completely the opposite direction, offering one sparkling wine, eight white wines, 11 reds, seven desserts wines (six by the glass only) and four reserve wines. The emphasis is on the producer, not the number of wines the list can boast or the roster of Usual Suspects.

In whites, there are a chardonnay and semillon from L’Ecole No. 41 in Washington; two Savennieres, a Quarts-de-Chaume and a sparkling rose from Donaine de Baumard in the Loire Valley; a gruner veltliner and a riesling from Anton Bauer in Austria, and a Premier Cru and Grand Cru Chablis from Domaine William Fevre.

Reds include two pinot noirs and a cabernet sauvignon from Babcock Vineyards in Santa Barbara and a charbono and a merlot from Coturri in the Sonoma Valley; a Cotes-du-Rhone Villages, a Croze-Hermitage and a Chateauneud-du-Pape from Tardieu-Laurent; and, from Chateau de Roquefort in Cotes-de-Provence, a rose, a Bouches de Rhone and a Cotes-de-Provence.

That’s it. Prices range from $39 to $94, with most being in the $40s to $60s. About half the wines are available by the glass, at prices ranging from $9 to $11. What a refreshing and respectful approach to pairing wine with a restaurant’s signature cuisine and to promoting the work of individual producers.

Then there’s the reserve list. Naturally, the prices are fairly high: Heitz Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2001, $125; Domaine Bouchard Pere et Fils Chevalier-Montrachet Grand Cru 1997, $180; Chateau Haut-Brion 1998, $240; Chateau d’Yquem 1997, $320.

Here’s the deal though: The prices for the four reserve wines represent the wholesale prices the restaurant paid to acquire them. For patrons at T.W. Food who want to experience these wines with the restaurant’s fare, they are available at the restaurant’s cost. There’s no mark-up, as the website says, “Not a penny.”

I have never heard of a restaurant willing to do that. Sure, the biggest mark-ups tend to come in the lower to middle price range of the wine list, and the restaurant isn’t giving the reserve wines away, but still, it’s not making money on them. You will have to decide for yourselves if this policy is a sign of preciousness or integrity, or perhaps it’s both. In any case, it’s extraordinary.