"What's your favorite thing here?" I asked our server on a Friday night. "Besides whiskey?" he deadpanned. If you somehow missed the wall of wines in the dining room, his meaning makes it clear: Bar Avignon is self-consciously boozy.
But it's also a well-lit, cozy neighborhood bar that performs the Mary Poppins-like feat of squeezing a lot of people into a small space without once seeming crowded, loud or rushed. The 12-seat tabletop only turns over twice on weekend nights, allowing your party to enjoy plenty of wine-soaked chatter. And in this town full of small plates that show up whenever the chef damn well pleases, our waiter—gasp!—timed our entrees to arrive after our appetizers were done! And simultaneously!
The menu is seasonally based, so go with a salad—in our case, a melon salad ($12) with grilled ricotta and purslane—as your appetizer. The king salmon ($30), served with wild mushrooms, eggplant and herbed sour cream, was too small a serving to fend off all the forks eager for a bite of the flavorful, tender flesh, and the roast chicken ($25), with panzanella, heirloom tomatoes, cucumber, fennel and herbs in a red wine vinaigrette, was perfect—the chicken moist with a crisp crust, the tomatoes ripe. Bonus: The menu full of $60-to-$100 bottles of wine makes that after-dinner $12 shot of Laphroaig seem a positive bargain.
Eat: Oysters ($3 apiece) and whiskey at the bar, or the burrata ($10), with nectarines and pine nuts, drizzled with aged balsamic vinegar, followed by the salmon ($30).
Drink: Order a bottle of Gamay, hand the waiter your credit card, and just don't think about it until your statement comes.
Most popular dish: No matter how it's prepared, the pork chop ($27) usually sells out.
Noise level: 75/100. Didn't seem that loud, though.
Expected wait: Reservations are recommended.
Who you'll eat with: Fit and lively older couples who bought their gorgeous Craftsman in 1973, are definitely OPB subscribers, and book their out-of-town relatives to stay at the Heathman.
Year opened: 2008