At some point during your visit to Nouveau Monde Wine Bar, you will start to crave wine.
Maybe this craving will begin when you walk in and see the steampunk elegance of the main dining area, a space that feels equal parts bar, classic cafe, restaurant and offbeat library. Perhaps it will strike as you read the wine list itself, a thick document that goes on and on like a William Faulkner sentence punctuated by descriptions such as “spicy yet fruity, red wine drinkers’ rosé.” Maybe it will begin when your server asks, “What type of wine do you usually drink?” and you realize “IPAs” is not an acceptable response.
Or, at least, that’s what happened to me.
Nouveau Monde Wine Bar
6 Washington Ave., Sandy Hook
Hours: Mon.-Thu. 2-10 p.m., Fri. 2-11 p.m., Sat. 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; social hour: Mon.-Fri. 3-6 p.m.; brunch: Sat. & Sun. until 3 p.m.
Price range: Appetizers $6-$17 (beef short rib empanadas $7, chicken quesadilla $9, charcuterie $9, sliced beet salad $11); entrées $14-$19 (oyster po’ boy $18, turkey burger $16); desserts $8-$9 (Voodoo salted caramel chocolate brownie $9)
Ambiance: A 1930s Paris bistro meets a London pub and Harvard book club, creating a European atmosphere with New England charm that is perfect for a date. Main dining area is a lounge space with a marble bar and a mix of traditional table seating as well as couches.
Service: Friendly, patient and helpful. Our server guided us through the robust wine list. A complimentary glass was provided for us to enjoy with dessert.
Food: Elegant, globally inspired, but relatively casual, comfort food with strong French influences. Ingredients are fresh and locally grown when possible. Flavors are clean and intriguing.
This newfound appreciation of wine capped (or in this case, corked) a visit to the restaurant that, to put it in language a wine lover would understand, was a rich, full-bodied evening highlighted by notes of cellared ambiance, clean, bright food flavors that were anything but dry and a sweet, rich finish courtesy of a knockout dessert.
To get to Nouveau Monde, which opened in April 2016, one drives through the heart of Sandy Hook, a village in Newtown. Downtown is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it area, but in the space of that blink, you’ll have missed a lot.
The Pootatuck River slices through the village, cutting behind historic, red-brick buildings to provide quintessentially New England scenery and a soft soundtrack of shifting water. You can see and hear the river from the outdoor seating at Nouveau Monde and are close to a footbridge that traverses the water and is perfect for a before- or after-dinner stroll.
Inside Nouveau Monde, the main area is a lounge-like space with a marble bar and a mix of traditional table seating as well as couches.
“We looked to create a space that was reminiscent of a 1930s Paris bistro, intermingled with a London pub and Harvard book club look, but also still clearly New England,” says Bill Towne, who owns the restaurant with Peter Chang, when contacted after our visit.
Before you’ve fully settled into your chair, as you begin to realize this place is something approaching date-night nirvana, that thick wine list arrives. Our server suggests a glass of Malbec, the right pick both for my mood and budget (this glass was $9, but some bottles are listed with $100-plus price tags).
Then, the food starts arriving.
Towne describes the cuisine as “refined comfort food.” It draws its primary inspiration from the French school and offshoots, such as Cajun culinary traditions, but often roams farther from France with many eclectic international offerings. The menu has been designed to complement the wine, and offers options for those just snacking between glasses, as well as those looking for something heartier.
The charcuterie is a wonderful selection of salami and cured meats, and the house-made beef short rib empanadas are a must-try appetizer with soft meat cradled in a blanket of Argentinian dough and flavored with chimichurri. Also enjoyable on the appetizer front are the chicken quesadillas, a refreshingly casual dish executed well, and the fried duck dumplings, Chinese-style dumplings with a red chili soy dipping sauce. If you have room for salad, the sliced beet offering is a winner with red and golden beets, goat cheese and aged balsamic.
For entrées, the oyster po’ boy was a worthy take on the Louisiana sandwich served on a French baguette. Here the sandwich is powered by cornmeal-fried oysters topped with Creole remoulade and served alongside a wonderful potato salad. Having only a passing fondness for oysters, this would not be a dish I’d order again; after all, it is, as its name implies, big on oyster flavor. I would, however, gladly reorder the turkey burger wrapped in naan bread and served with masala spices, crunchy onions and seasonal vegetables, all coalescing into an excellent assortment of flavors.
Each entrée comes with a recommended wine pairing. Nouveau Monde, French for “New World,” features old world (wines from Europe) alongside new world (wines from the Americas, Australia and New Zealand). Some guests have traveled great distances to taste hard-to-find gems at the restaurant, including wines like the Kathryn Hall Napa Valley cabernet. For non-wine drinkers, there is also a robust spirit and craft beer list.
A portion of the menu titled “Liquid Dessert” highlights an assortment of after-dinner beverages, including port, sherry, cognac and a variety of apéritif and digestive liqueurs. We forego these options in favor of a traditional solid dessert and order the Voodoo salted caramel chocolate brownie. It’s a fusion of salty and sweet flavors so close to sublime we wouldn’t be surprised if dark magic was involved in its creation, but Towne explains the secret to the dish is more pedestrian. “We use dark chocolate and a bit less sugar than usual recipes, as well as a good-quality olive oil,” he says. “The olive oil gives the brownie a bit of a peppery bite and a savory quality. The brownie is sliced in half, warmed, and the caramel is layered in between as well as drizzled on top. A sprinkling of kosher sea salt completes the brownie. Vanilla-bean ice cream, drizzled with more of the caramel, completes the dish.”
Lingering longer than usual after a meal, we order French press coffee made with beans from Shearwater Organic Coffee Roasters. Much like the wine and food, it is an exquisitely crafted drink.
During dessert the server brings a port chosen because it pairs well with the chocolate of the brownie, compliments of Towne. He does not recognize me, or know I am writing a review, but provides it anyhow. When reminded of this later, he replies, “Doing that type of thing for our guests embodies the spirit of Nouveau Monde.” It’s a spirit worth toasting, regardless of what’s in your glass.