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First Look: Magnolia Wine Kitchen

First Look: Magnolia Wine Kitchen

In over 750 dining reviews I’ve written over the years, I can’t recall ever using the word “breathtaking” to describe a restaurant. Yet that’s exactly the word that came to mind as I surveyed the surroundings at Magnolia Wine Kitchen from my tapestry wingback chair.

The venue, owned by the team that brings us Wellman’s Rooftop and Patio, opened last month in the space where Lurra Coccina came and quickly went. Gone is Lurra’s edgy, industrial-modern feel; in its place a graceful cream-and-aqua color scheme, shimmery gold curtains, classic still-life and landscape paintings and some beautifully upholstered banquettes and chairs.

Somehow, the décor pulls all this off without feeling stuffy or rococo; rather, the space feels clean, modern, and bright, with two-story floor-to-ceiling windows adding to these effects. I can’t think of a better spot to drink a glass of wine than in the conversation clusters of soft-seating looking out at the streetscape and the Pappajohn Sculpture Park beyond.

And hats off to fair wine prices: Find thoughtfully chosen values (e.g. La Marca Prosecco for $7 a glass); or, splurge on a bottles of well-purveyed Napa Valley Reds—with plenty of styles and price points in between.

Lunch sandwiches at Magnolia Wine Kitchen. Front: Salmon BLT and cheese soup. Back: Cajun Tuna Sandwich. The tuna was the winner here.

Lunch sandwiches at Magnolia Wine Kitchen. Front: Salmon BLT and cheese soup. Back: Cajun Tuna Sandwich. The tuna was the winner here.

The food is definitely more bar-grill than bistro, but that’s OK: It’s nice not to have to splurge every time you want to dine somewhere dashing. The winner at lunch was the Cajun tuna sandwich, with good-quality medium-cooked tuna, tomatoes and Cajun crema on expertly grilled bread. The Salmon BLT was good (after all, it had bacon and a garlic aioli), though the salmon itself brought little flavor. 

On a second visit, I enjoyed the West Coast Burger, a mustard-coated burger with grilled onions, tomatoes, pickles, and a "special sauce" reminiscent of a Big Mac's special sauce—and I mean that in a good way. (I haven't eaten Big Macs since high school, but I always loved that sauce.) The French Dip would have been better if served on toasted bread or a bun; unfortunately, the grilled bread brought so much moisture (by way of the buttery grilled bread) that dunking the sandwich in the jus proved overkill.

In short, two hits, two good-enough also-rans. You can bet I’ll be back again, as it's just such a pleasant place to dine. And, there were plenty more draws on the menu—I’m eyeing the lobster roll and Cajun Shrimp tacos, in particular.

Magnolia Wine Kitchen is at 1420 Locust St.; 635-0952; www.magnoliawinekitchen.com.

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