Wine and Prose

Off the Beaten Path Bookstore takes on new identity at night

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All of the "elements" necessary for an intimate rendezvous are in place at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore.

Elements is the name of a new wine bar that takes over the coffeehouse space in late afternoons and into the evenings every Wednesday through Sunday at Off the Beaten Path.

The dining room takes on a Zen-like appearance with a bamboo plant on every table and the clean lines of wood, steel and glass -- hence the name "Elements." Patrons may choose to order at the counter or enjoy table service.

Food and beverage manager Nicolette Powell may have one of the best jobs in town. she teams with owners Dick and Leslie Ryan to taste and select more than 20 smaller label wines for Elements' list, most of them available by the glass. In addition to small wineries, Elements offers wines from some widely distributed labels, such as Australia's Rosemount.

The wines are selected to allow patrons to try something unfamiliar at prices between $5 and $10 a glass. Full bottles range from $15 to $51. Because the wine list will be transformed completely every three months, Powell's chores are never done. Right now, she's intrigued with an unfiltered Chilean wine, Dallas Conte Reserve, which is a blend of cabernet and merlot grapes.

"Folks who like the big reds will really enjoy it," Powell said. "It has oak and spice and almost a smoky finish."

Elements also allows longtime chef Richard Yarborough to stretch his creative powers beyond his familiar breakfast and lunch offerings. The autumn menu of appetizers and light dining options for two goes into effect Friday. It includes chips with mango salsa; "South Beach" dishes such as red lentil curry and vegetable stir fry; smoked salmon with capers and red onion; and a homemade chicken pot pie. There are many other selections, all for less than $10.

Powell said the Ryans conceived Elements in an effort to boost evening business to match that of early morning and noon in the coffee shop. Some customers may not be aware, but the bookstore has a significant kitchen in its lower level as well as a commercial bakery that turns out desserts and other baked goods for fine Steamboat restaurants.

Powell previously worked as an early morning baker at Off the Beaten Path, then took off for two years to sail in the waters off Florida. When the Ryans visited her in Florida, they pitched the idea of the wine bar.

Elements kicked off with a soft opening in July to test the concept and received the response the owners needed. After featuring American wines during the summer, Elements has shifted to a wine list that features a big selection from Australia and New Zealand (after the first of the year, attention will transition to wines from France).

The prevailing house wine is supplied by the Little Penguin label with a spicy Shiraz, a smooth cabernet, jammy merlot and crisp chardonnay, all priced at $15 a bottle or $5 a glass.

Little Penguin was created for the casual wine drinking American market by Southcorp, which owns 20,00 acres of vineyards on Australia's southeastern coast and bottles under labels including Rosemount, Penfolds and Lindemans.

Wine fans looking for a more complex red wine from down under could turn to the Brown Brothers cabernet, which teases the palate with subtle herbal flavors of marjoram, sage and rosemary.

Elements also offers a small selection of microbrews priced at $3.75 a bottle. They are featuring Black Butte, Mirror Pond (pale ale), Obsidian Stout and a seasonal brew called Jubileo this fall. Elements also serves cappuccino cocktails for cold nights.

California wines featured this fall include Cline Red Truck from Sonoma at $21 a bottle or $7 a glass. A blend of Mourvedre and Syrah grapes grown in the sunny climate of Contra Costa County, it offers flavors of red cherries, blueberries and chocolate. Red Truck would be enhanced when paired with Elements' deli meat selection of proscuitto, cappicola, salami and pepperoni. It's enough for two people and served with a baguette for $6.25.

For white wine lovers, Powell said the Sonoma Cutrer chardonnay is a great match for the smoked salmon appetizer. The wine features flavors of honey, pear and citrus.

Powell has special plans on Saturday nights for lovers of dark chocolate and full-bodied red wines. She has purchased a large bar of imported Belgian chocolate. On "indulgent" Saturday nights, she will pair the Dallas Conte Reserve with clusters of toasted almonds drenched in the chocolate, or a flourless Marquis chocolate cake.

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