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Simpler dishes offer reason to join SA's pilgrimage to Mark Bliss's new eatery

Photo: Rick Cortez, License: N/A

Rick Cortez

Mark Bliss in the kitchen.

Photo: , License: N/A

Charcuterie plate


Some years ago, while wandering off the tourist tracks of Venice (indulge me here), I happened on a neighborhood wine bar. A chalkboard listed several wines I didn't know, so I determined to drink my way through as many of them as time and budget would allow. (It was cool in the wine bar, OK?) On a counter beneath the chalkboard sat a gleaming red prosciutto slicer, and in time, perhaps aided by the wines, I came to see it as worthy of devotion as any of the saints of San Marco — and surely more useful.

The gleaming red meat slicer that sits at the Bliss bar is just such an object. Little wonder that Mark Bliss seemed almost like an adoring acolyte as he demonstrated the effortless shaving of slices of prosciutto so thin you could literally read a wine label through one; several such slices, along with other cured meats, cheese, and the usual accoutrements, can anchor a very nice platter for sampling and sipping at said, intimate-scaled bar. (There are five seats, if I recall, and Kristian will take very good care of you.)

Since this is still Bliss's honeymoon period, said bar is also the perfect place to watch the wine and food world as we know it locally pass through: foodie camp followers, chefs, serious wine folk … you may recognize many of them. For that matter, you may be one of them. Some arrive out of curiosity, others to pay homage to our own culinary San Marco who has been absent from the local scene for a time. It's altogether fitting that he should return to this, a beautifully burnished, nave-like space that proves that, in the right hands (the architect is Candid Rogers), even an ex-service station can be transformed into something almost reverential in feel. Artworks by Harold Wood only amplify the atmosphere.

The ecclesiastic imagery could easily get out of hand here, so to return to the secular realm, let's start with some appetizers: potato blini with crème fraîche, a precious poached quail egg, and a smidgen of truffle oil-accented caviar are as light as a host (sorry) and disappear just as quickly; more earth-bound, and listed under the occasional "offal" category, was a plate of lightly breaded sweetbreads all tricked out with black rice, mushrooms, and a hint of cayenne-like heat. It could easily have gone off the tracks, but kept its cool. Or heat, to be more accurate. Add Bliss to the short list of places having mastered this underappreciated delicacy.

In general, though, the more complicated a dish, the less interesting I found it. Samples of friends' scallops with cheddary grits and herb-crusted rack of lamb were very good indeed, suggesting that the kitchen excels with good product minimally treated. Red-chile-braised Berkshire pork shank (from Idaho), on the other hand, was a disappointment despite a marvelously yielding texture; there was simply no depth of flavor — and hardly a hint of chile. A twig of broccolini, however, was happily consumed — and no, the Supreme Court didn't make me do it. A beet salad seemed to stumble due to an overly fussy presentation that diminished the inherent beetiness of the dish.

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