Tuesday, March 06, 2007

You Sixy Beast

If the tagline “little bar bistro” behind Six sounds familiar, it’s likely that you’ve run across the sister restaurants, Crackers and Empire, over in Norfolk. Tapas fans have eagerly awaited their foray across the water, and finally, they’ve landed close to the corner of Mellen & Mallory in Phoebus.

I actually made two visits to Six. The first was on a night when they were absolutely mobbed by pre-show patrons bound for The American Theatre. Both the staff and the kitchen seemed completely overwhelmed, and they were out of quite a few items. It turned out they were getting ready to overhaul and change the menu. After giving them a few weeks to get their groove on, Dave and I returned on a very quiet Monday night.

There was only one other table seated, allowing me to take in the full impact of the interior. The lighting is moody and red, the walls are brick and covered with painted and stainless steel art— there’s even a casual lounge at the front, outfitted in low-slung black couches. We chose a seat near the back, next to the chalkboard menu bearing the specials.

Flipping open the menu, I was more than surprised to discover that some of the items I’d tried previously were still listed! I thought back to that night:

—Tomato, basil & fresh mozzarella stack, $6: For a winter tomato, it was surprisingly vibrant and invigorating. A classic that was nicely done.

—Chopped house salad, $5: I was expecting a composed Greek-style salad, in perfectly tapas-sized proportions. What I got was, well, a side salad. For $5.

—Beef carpaccio, $7: Meat somewhat meager, flavor on the mild side.

—Filet ’o’ beef w/mashers, $9: Surprisingly large in size, surprisingly milquetoast in taste.

Back to the matter at hand. We placed our orders, asking if the kitchen could please stagger the dishes, and sat back with a glass of wine. The Hugh Hamilton “The Mongrel” Sangiovese ($32) was a mellow melange of red fruits and held just a touch of spice— it promised to pair fairly well with the variety of plates ahead of us.

That time was nearer than we thought. The waitress returned with one plate, then another, then another. We asked once again if they could slow it down just a bit, as the kitchen still had only the one table to occupy themselves with. With her cheerful acquiescence, we grabbed spoons and chopsticks and got to work.

The tomato & basil soup ($5) was carrot-orange in color, and flecked generously with chopped basil. The warming aroma fulfilled its promise at first sip: the tomato-vegetable blend was perfectly balanced, and not a touch too rich. Probably my favorite dish of the night.

Pork & ginger potstickers with duck sauce & ponzu ($5) were six fat pan-fried dumplings nestled into a sweet, slightly thick dark sauce. The dumplings were good, in an oddly generic way. No one flavor commanded attention: with the dominating power of the duck sauce, this was probably for the best.

Hand-cut french fries with malt vinegar aioli ($5) may have been my second-favorite, but I’m an unashamed french fry-a-holic. Arriving in a cute retro plastic red basket, they were crispy in all the right places and welcomingly soft in all the rest. The malt vinegar aioli was an excellent partner, though we quickly discovered that a mixture of that and the remaining tomato-basil soup was even better.

After a slight breather, the next round of courses arrived. The hummus with grilled pita ($5) came as a scoop of hummus flanked by triangles of pita. The grilled pita wedges were perfectly tasty, but couldn’t make up for the astounding lack of flavor in the hummus. One bite in, we pushed it aside, where it was wordlessly and unquestioningly whisked away by the server.

The gnocchi carbonara ($7) offered a nice foray into the continuing carb-fest. The portly potato dumplings were dressed in a rich creamy sauce: thick crumbles of bacon provided the meaty component, while bright green peas and a touch of shaved parmesan pulled the dish together.

We finally got to the meat of the matter with veal saltimbocca with pan gravy ($9). This dish is a personal favorite- at home. This rendition seemed to have everything going for it- the sauce, the cheese, the pork. Ultimately, it never seemed to quite pull together, and came off as somewhat bland.

The pistachio encrusted lamb chops with port wine glaze ($9) were an interesting and gorgeous plate. Two cute little chops, with their pistachio crusts almost blackened, sat atop a ruby red sauce, green garnish creating an almost Christmas-sy look. However the chops appeared, they were cooked perfectly, one bite revealing a rosy-pink interior. The slight blackened flavor of the pistachios was unexpected, and I’m not certain that’s what the kitchen was striving towards.

I was still anticipating the triple “s” tuna sashimi with seaweed salad & ponzu ($9), when the check arrived. I’d been in the bathroom when the waitress had returned to ask if we cared for anything else, or just the check. Apparently, the sashimi had been forgotten in the quiet non-rush of the evening. As we were stuffed to the gills, it was just as well.

I love tapas-style dining. While Six keeps safely in familiar territory, it's still a welcome addition to the Peninsular dining scene. A little variety is the spice of life, and just the right way to have a fun night out with friends and family. Eat, drink, chat, relax: just make sure you check the schedule at The American Theatre before heading out!

Six Little Bar Bistro
6 Mellen Street, Hampton
Phone: 722-1466 Fax: 727-4790
Web site: www.littlebarbistro.com (site not currently updated with info for Six)
Specialties: tapas and cocktails
Price range: tapas: $1-$9 (add $10 to any one dish to make a full entree)
Hours: open 7 days a week, 5 p.m.-2 a.m.
Alcohol: beer, wine, full bar
Smoking: only after 9 p.m.
Vegetarian: yes
Wheelchair accessible: yes
Payment: cash, credit card
Noise level: conversational to very noisy
Atmosphere: casual, chic
Additional Information: no reservations, no splitting checks
Star rating: food 3, atmosphere 4, service 3
(out of five stars)

Posted on Thursday, March 01, 2007 at 11:07 AM Permalink


Blogger C'tina said...

I've been meaning to get to Crackers for YEARS! Ever been to Todd Jurich's Bistro?

5:38 AM  

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