For big results, sometimes you have to think small. Case in point: Spoke Wine Bar, the latest addition to Somerville’s thriving food scene.
Here, the diminutive dominates. The carefully curated wine list features exclusively small-batch producers. The menu is composed of small plates and nibbles, designed expressly for sharing. Even the tables are small, encouraging intimate conversation.
So far, small seems to be a formula for success: The food is terrific, the wine sublime, and the vibe the envy of the neighborhood.
Spoke is first and foremost about wine. Owner Felisha Foster is the former wine buyer for Dave’s Fresh Pasta, a specialty food shop just a few doors down on Holland Street. At Spoke, she’s put together an accessible yet creative list of bottles ($32-$110) that favors Old World Europe, with a few American selections for good measure. She’s focused on small producers, especially those with organic or biodynamic winemaking processes.
“I prefer to deal with producers . . . who take a hands-off approach,” Foster said, “who believe that wine is made in a vineyard and not in the winery.”
Experimentation is encouraged thanks to a tightly edited menu of wines by the glass, with selections changing seasonally. The peppery, earthy Saes Tinto ($8) is a good way to warm up on a cold and rainy afternoon, while the refreshing Ostatu Rioja Rosé ($10) practically radiates summer sunshine.
Don’t go gaga over grapes? Spoke also offers craft cocktails, including a respectable gin and house-made tonic ($10). Be sure to check out the “classic,” “modern,” and “wildcard” cocktail specials ($10-$11), listed on a chalkboard above the bar. A few beers are available, too — mostly American craft brews and a couple of Belgian bottles. The list is limited, though, so beer aficionados may wish to head elsewhere.
Good drinks call for good food, and Spoke does not disappoint. The kitchen is led by John daSilva, former executive sous chef of Boston’s No. 9 Park. He’s committed to high-quality, seasonal ingredients, and plans to source from the Davis Square farmers market this summer.
Portions are small and tapas-style, designed for tasting and sharing. This means that depending on your appetite, Spoke can be a fairly expensive proposition: bang-for-your-buck it is not.
For starters, try the house marinated olives ($5). This generous and varied selection is served warm, highlighting the rich, buttery flavor of each olive. Don’t miss the peekytoe crab crostini ($5), two petite sesame toasts topped with fresh, flaky crab meat and sharpened with a sprinkling of chives. It’s too bad this dish only comes as a duo — my guest and I could have easily eaten more.
The spreads ($4 each, served with flatbread) garnered mixed reviews. My dining companion and I loved the whipped ricotta, spiced with red pepper, but found the eggplant too smoky and salty. The seeded and slightly greasy flatbreads are more akin to focaccia than they are to crackers, and compete for taste with the spreads.
I was much happier with the cured meat selection (three for $18, five for $26). Our three charcuterie choices included saucisson sec, coppa, and surryano, presented on a wooden serving board and accompanied by house-pickled vegetables, whole grain mustard, and perfectly crunchy toasts.
The main portion of Spoke’s menu is loosely grouped into three categories: vegetable, seafood, and meat. Among the vegetable choices, you can’t beat the beets ($11). Though Spoke has been serving red beets for a while, we arrived just in time for the yellow variety. They were marinated, dusted with spiced pistachio, and served atop a bed of honeyed goat cheese so well-whipped it may as well have been a mousse.
We also enjoyed the veggie panini special ($11), stuffed with bitter rapini, taleggio cheese, and a fried egg, though it was a little greasy.
Among the seafood options, oysters ($15 for a half-dozen) are dressed up with a red wine mignonette. The spigola crudo ($13) is a riot of flavors and textures, bringing together rich, buttery sea bass with split peas, garlicky chips, tiny cubes of lardo, and zesty lemon preserve.
My dining companion and I had a field day trying to describe the flavors (A sushi bar in your neighbor’s garden! The ocean floor on the first day of spring!), ultimately agreeing that though our metaphors were a total failure, the dish was anything but.
For heartier fare, Spoke offers a small bavette steak ($22), served with crème fraiche and potato. Or indulge in the garganelli with lamb ragu and fava beans ($20). The hand-rolled tubular pasta — think penne’s more elegant sibling — arrived perfectly al dente and was topped with ladles of rich ragu and generous handfuls of salty, dried ricotta. I could have forgone the fava beans, which added neither much texture nor taste to the otherwise stellar dish.
Spoke should provide serving spoons to facilitate sharing of this and other dishes — as things stand, it’s basically a race to see who can be most dexterous with his or her fork (author 2; patient dining companion, 0).
Round out your meal with the chocolate budino ($7), a sinfully delicious chocolate pudding with hazelnut cream and cookie crumbles. The pudding is seriously thick — leave-your-spoon-and-it-stands-alone kind of thick — and worth every single calorie.
Though Spoke takes its food and wine seriously, the atmosphere is deliberately casual. Staff members are unpretentious and accessible, patiently fielding questions. For a place focused on all things small, Spoke punches well above its weight — and if the prices were slightly more reasonable, the place would be a total knockout.