Wednesday, February 1, 2006

The expansion of the Iron Bridge Wine Company is finally complete, but there still are not enough seats to accommodate the crowds.

Brothers and co-owners Rob and Steve Wecker opened the Columbia, Md., wine bar and restaurant in the spring of 2003, and it has turned into one of the hottest meeting places in Howard County.

The original contemporary structure seated about 45. The new dining room addition can handle about 30 more.



Some patrons come only for the wines. More than 350 bottles are available and on display in the bar-dining room. Buy a bottle to take home or pay a $5 corkage fee, and your selection, and glasses, are brought to the table. If you’re in the mood for just a glass or two, 30 wines also are available daily by the glass.

The vintages come from mostly small, unknown vineyards around the world, which allows most of them to be reasonably priced. Last year, Iron Bridge was awarded the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for its selections.

But what would good wine be without good food? Perfect pairings for the wines come from executive chef Marc Dixon’s kitchen.

His new American dinner menu is made up of a dozen small-plate or soup/salad offerings and four small-plate entrees, all fun and funky creations.

The soup of the day was a roasted butternut squash that was garnished with toasted almonds.

A four-cheese plate contains four cow’s-milk cheeses crafted by the kitchen and garnished with sliced Granny Smith apples, honey walnuts and red seedless grapes.

Smoked salmon crostini ($9) is not your mother’s crostini. A thin, rectangular plank of crisp toast is loaded with diced salmon, sauteed yellow squash, shallots and diced tomatoes, garnished with mache bouquet. The salmon was rich and bursting with flavor, and the crisp crostini provided the perfect contrast.

Sauteed jumbo shrimp ($15) are served over black rice with sauteed watercress, strawberry sweet-and-sour sauce and a mache bouquet. The shrimp were good, no doubt about that, but the black rice was the standout in this dish. The strawberry was evident, and the sauce was just sweet enough to be divinely rich but not like a dessert.

A grilled petit veal rack ($16) is served with haricots verts and baby carrots, pearl wheat barley and a red-wine glace. The veal was tender, with just the right amount of crust on the outside to give it outstanding flavor. The barley was solid and chewy, bursting with flavor, and made this a substantial dish. The wine glace pulled everything together.

Pan-roasted tuna loin ($16) is served over a Tuscan-style white bean, red Swiss chard and leek saute with a lemon-butter sauce. The tuna was prepared to order and was not overly seasoned, so the real flavor of the fish came through. The beans were creamy and tender, and the Swiss chard provided just enough crunch to give contrast. The slightly bitter taste of the greens complemented the sweetness of the butter and the sourness of the lemon.

A comforting mixed-mushroom risotto ($14) contains shiitake, oyster and crimini mushrooms, fresh herbs, Parmigiano Reggiano, celery and plum-tomato salad and a truffle and sherry vinaigrette. For an additional $8, you can add rosemary grilled shrimp.

Dessert offerings ranged from a vanilla creme brulee to a citrus bread pudding to a petite cheesecake. Pastry Napoleon ($6) consisted of three puff-pastry rounds in a sweet vanilla and fruit sauce. Chocolate ganache cake ($7) was like a chocolate lava cake — rich chocolate cake with a rich, warm ganache center. It was garnished with vanilla-bean ice cream for balance.

Lunch sandwiches include a grilled portabello mushroom with roasted red peppers; rosemary grilled chicken BLT wrap; Black Forest smoked ham or smoked cracked pepper turkey and brie. All are served with either a fruit salad, petite salad or chive-caper potato salad.

Reservations are accepted only for a Tuesday night wine club in the new dining room. On those evenings, the Iron Bridge hosts a wine tasting and dinner that includes four wines and four courses. Price is $75 per person, and the event is limited to 30 people.

The dining room expansion was an improvement, but the house needs to find a better way to accommodate patrons who are waiting for a seat.

There is barely enough room to check out the wine selections, and patrons who stand in the little space that is available just get in the way of the wait staff.

Do not look for an iron bridge as a guide to the restaurant’s location. The name comes from a connection with the Iron Bridge Hunt Club.

RESTAURANT: The Iron Bridge Wine Company, 10435 State Route 108, Columbia, Md.; 410/997-3456; ironbridgewines.com

HOURS: Lunch Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; dinner Monday through Thursday 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday till midnight, and Sunday 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday brunch 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

PRICES: Soups/salads $6 to $7; sandwiches $8 to $9; small plates $7 to $12; small plate entrees $14 to $16; desserts $6 to $7

RESERVATIONS: Not accepted

CREDIT CARDS: All major cards

PARKING: On-site

ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible

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