Yes, yes, I realize that we should have gone to Income Tax Bar on Tuesday to drown our sorrow over being newly poor. But the weather was so nice on Tuesday and, anyway, the government hadn’t cashed the big checks we mailed to it, so the sorrow was more abstract. It was easier to be sad on Wednesday when it turned cold and blustery and our bank accounts were noticeably smaller. Those are ideal conditions for going to a bar and drinking some wine and expounding at length on our personal grievances with life.
There is plenty of wine at Income Tax Bar, mostly from France, Italy, Spain, and Germany. There are also beer, cider, spirits, and a small selection of cocktails, most of which are brandy based. The waitstaff are very kind and patient with their explanations about what things are and helpful about helping novices figure out what might taste good.
There is also food at Income Tax Bar, though that is far less plentiful than the booze: just 15 dishes (plus desserts), a mix of large and small plates, all meant to be reinterpretations of classic dishes from the four countries represented on the wine list. “This isn’t your grandma’s coq au vin!” our waiter told my dining companion and me. We told him our grandmas had never made coq au vin in the first place, so we had nothing to compare it to. (When my grandma died, I inherited her copy of The Art of French Cooking, slightly aged, but otherwise as pristine as the day she’d acquired it.)
The first thing we tried was the pulpo gallego, stewed octopus. Traditionally, it is served with olive oil and paprika, but the Income Tax Bar version comes mixed with olives, peppers, dollops of bright orange romesco sauce, and potato chips, identified on the menu as papas fritas. It was a singularly odd dish. Its appearance did, in fact, remind me of my grandma, not her cooking, but her 70s kitchen. We weren’t sure how to eat it. It’s hard to spear a potato chip on a fork. In the end, we resorted to scooping up the octopus with the chips. Each of the components tasted good—the octopus bites were tiny but tender, and the chips were crisp and not too salty—but somehow they didn’t quite go together.
The strangolapreti, fried spinach dumplings stuffed with ricotta, made more sense. Of course, it’s hard to go wrong with any form of fried cheese, but the outside shell was crisp and the ricotta was light and sweet. The stuffed quail with rye dumping and red cabbage looked so tiny and adorable on the plate, almost like doll food, that we were initially loath to eat it. We did, because we were still hungry, and then we gnawed on the little baby drumsticks. It tasted like chicken, but the rye dumpling—which functioned more like stuffing—added an unexpected note of flavor. “This tastes like Germany,” my friend said.
(We were also curious about how one debones a quail. Two separate members of the waitstaff told us, “Very carefully.” After we pressed the second one, he allowed it was extremely tedious work.)
And then, after all of that, we were still hungry. Our waiter suggested that the Güntensberg cheese would pair nicely with the canele, a petite eggy pastry from Bordeaux, and he was right. It also paired nicely with the still-warm toasted baguette that came with it. We agreed that this was definitely our favorite part of the entire meal and regretted that we hadn’t ordered the coq au vin after all.
Income Tax Bar is probably a bad place to come for dinner when you’re hungry, but it’s a decent place for drowning your sorrows. It’s dark and cozy, the service is not frantic, the music plays at a civilized volume, and they let you sit and drink and grumble for as long as you need. There is also no other place like it on the Red Line north of Uptown. All these are good enough reasons for stopping by for wine, cheese, and canele.
Income Tax Bar, 5959 N. Broadway, 773-897-9165, incometaxbar.com