We’re ever on the lookout for new watering holes so when Jim Weaver of Tre Piani in Forrestal Village opened TreBar — Princeton’s first and only wine bar — we couldn’t wait to go. Credit for the original vision goes to Weaver’s new wife, Kim Clearwater, who was inspired by the traditional tapas bars she has visited in Barcelona and Seville where locals stop in for a panini and espresso at lunch then come back after work for tapas. With TreBar, Clearwater has conceptualized and designed a sleek, sophisticated portal into the world of wine, one glass at a time. The bar can be accessed through the main restaurant or its own exterior entrance. TreBar, which literally means three bars, is indeed Tre Piani’s third bar — the other two are on the main level of the restaurant and the private room upstairs.
On the Thursday evening we visited, my friend and I were greeted personally at the door by Weaver and Clearwater, still beaming from their recent week-long trip to Tuscany, a tour intime organized with Greg Evans of Tuscan Hills, in which 14 participants from the Princeton area toured vineyards and artisan workshops and sampled local cuisine.
We slid our eyes down the mahogany bar, drinking in the floor to ceiling wine coolers behind it, and settled in the sunken lounge area designed by Richardson Smith of Princeton. The bar was already full with businesspeople unwinding after the workday but we knew if we waited it out, we’d snag two of those Italian bar stools (imported by Tuscan Hills) eventually. A large group of women took up the two round tables adjacent to the bar. Above us hung a Chiluly-style glass chandelier of multi-colored, hand-blown twisted cones of glass made by Belle Mead Hot Glass.
We were given a by-the-glass wine list, a “small plates” menu, and a “tapas additions” specials list. On the wine list we found 14 whites (including a dry rose and a blush), ranging from a 2006 Honig Sauvignon Blanc from Napa Valley to a 2005 Castello Banfi Pinot Grigio from Tuscany to a 2006 Martinsancho Verdejo from Rueda, Spain.
Two white wine “flights” (three three-ounce tastes) are offered. The “ABC (anything but chardonnay) White” flight includes a 2005 Licia Albarino from Rias Baixas, Spain; a 2006 Wolfgang Gruner Veltliner “Concert” from Bergenland, Austria; and a 2005 Domaine Houchart Dry Rose from Cotes des Provence, France. The “Italia White” flight includes a 2006 Le Rote Vernaccia from San Gimignano, Tuscany; a 2005 Marchesi di Barolo Gavi from Piedmont, Italy; and a 2005 Bertani Pinot Grigio-Sauvignon Blanc from Friuli-Collio, Italy.
There are 13 red wine choices ranging from a 2003 Castello di Gabbiano Sangiovese Chianti Classico from Tuscany to a 2003 Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon from Sonoma Valley. There are also two flight choices. The first, “ABC (anything but cabernet) Red,” includes a 2004 Jim Barry Shiraz, from Claire Valley; a 2005 Edmeades Zinfandel from Mendocino; and a 2001 Vina Salceda Reserva Tempranillo from Rioja, Spain. The “Italia Red” flight includes a 2006 Prunotto Dolcetto from Alba Piedmont; a 2002 Tormaresca Negroamaro from Puglia; and a 2002 Castello Banfi Cabernet-Sangiovese from Tuscany.
Prices for the flights of white wines range from $9 to $11; reds are $12 to $18. A bottle wine list is also available.
The tapas menu is refreshingly inexpensive and tailor-made for people who tend to order two or three appetizers as dinner or those who think restaurant portions are too big. A cheese board featuring New Jersey and European cheeses, served with baguette slices, a generous spoonful of honey, and membrillo (quince paste) comes in two sizes: three cheeses for $5 and five for $8. A cured meat board comes in two sizes, $8 and $14.
Cold plates include four kinds of bruschetta (chicken liver and sage, $2; tomato and basil, $2; smoked salmon, arugula, and goat cheese, $3; and mozzarella and roasted peppers, $3); oysters on the half shell, $1.50 each; and marinated bocconcini mozzarella with sun-dried tomato and basil, $4.50.
Among the hot plates are a miniature soup sampler with three soups that change daily, $5; Tuscan-style meatballs with pancetta, sage, and brown butter, $5; miniature filet mignon with anchovy butter, $8; mini-shredded Cuban pork sandwich, $4; goat cheese tartlet with tomato and olives, $4; and mini chicken and avocado panini with spicy aioli, $4.
The specials the night we visited included homemade hummus with basil oil and pita chips, $3; bacala croquettes of chorizo aioli, $6; a three-cheese strombolini with roasted garlic and grilled eggplant, $5; and grilled figs stuffed with gorgonzola cheese, wrapped in prosciutto with thyme syrup, $6. Free tapas are offered Monday through Friday, 5to 6 p.m.
By the time we were ready to order two stools had opened up at the bar and we settled in. With our drink order came a complimentary sampling of Italian olives served on a ceramic plate made by potter John Shedd of Clayphernalia in Rocky Hill, who also made the tapas serving pieces.
Our favorite dishes? Hands-down, the grilled figs and mini shredded Cuban pork sandwich. And for dessert the double chocolate brownie drizzled in raspberry puree. The bartender recommended a 20-year-old Tawny Port chaser, and who were we to disagree?.
Perhaps the best ingredient of TreBar is, thankfully, missing. And that’s a TV. If you want to catch the game or all the bad news from the talking heads, you’ll have to imbibe elsewhere. TreBar is for people who, in true European style, enjoy good food and good wine and good company — without commercial interruptions.
TreBar, 120 Rockingham Row, Princeton Forrestal Village, 609-452-1515, www.trepiani.com. Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Dinner: Monday through Thursday, 5 to 9:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 5 to 10 p.m.