photo credit: Natalie Schaefer
Wine is a pretty big deal considering that, ultimately, it’s just grape juice that was left out too long. Restaurants hire people whose only job is to help you order it. You can take a class that will teach you how to appreciate it using terms like “burnt saddle leather” and “moldy licorice.” And pairing it with a little cookie once a week may or may not get you into heaven.
Wine is the only thing in the world of eating and drinking that we treat this way, and if you’ve never been to Napa, don’t have a wine fridge, or are just really bad at pronouncing the names of 18th-century French chateaus, then it’s easy to feel left out of what seems like an exclusive club.
This is why we love Nathalie, a wine bar in the Fenway that has skateboarding stickers on its walls along with contemporary art that looks like it could be auctioned off at Christie’s. This place is fun, has good food, and is the opposite of stuffy. It makes wine accessible.
Everything about Nathalie is welcoming and comfortable. The bartender will eagerly help you pair a glass with the stuffed chicken wings. The servers will be wearing graphic tees instead of dinner jackets. And you won’t feel out of place if you didn’t come straight from an afternoon of shopping on Newbury Street. It feels like a neighborhood pub, only the light beer has been replaced with natural wines exclusively produced by women and - despite the fact that it’s close enough to Fenway to hear the crowd groan after another blown save - there are no TVs above the bar showing the game.
Importantly, the accessibility extends to the eating and drinking experience, too. There’s no need to pull the standard move of ordering the second-least expensive bottle here. That’s not because the wine is cheap, but because Nathalie will open up any full bottle in the house for you as long as you commit to ordering at least two glasses of it. So you enjoy a glass of South African cab that would normally be too pricey for you to take a chance on the whole bottle. And you’ll pair it with a small but really good menu of Spanish-influenced small plates.
The only entree-sized option on the menu is the chicken with romesco and roasted potatoes, but the fact that almost everything else is tiny is an opportunity, not an obstacle. This is a place where you should come with a small group of friends, grab one of the couch seats, and stay for an hour or two working your way through the montaditos - a section of the menu filled with small bites like pickled sardines on toast. It’s the type of food that, if passed around at a wedding reception, would lead you to get on a first-name basis with the caterer.
Nathalie adds up to a great place to hang out even if you answer “seedless” when someone asks you what’s your favorite grape. Until restaurants also start hiring people to help you order chicken wings (which, uh, we would love), wine is always going to be a big deal. But Nathalie ensures that it’s both a big deal and fun.
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If sardines are normally a little too intense for you, try these - the pickling mellows them out a bit.
Salt Roasted Sweet Potato
We were excited about the roe-potato pairing, but the roe kind of gets lost. Don’t expect to get that great taste that makes you feel like a water-balloon filled with sea water burst in your mouth when you bite into it.
Nathalie pokes a little fun at its ballpark-adjacent location with a “no ballplaying” sign above the bar. It does it on the menu, too, with a brat that would in no way be appropriate to actually eat at Fenway, but which would be great with a riesling.
In a city that has a ton of different twists on chowder, this is one of the more inventive ones. We like it because it’s the only chowder we know of that you could put in your pocket - you probably shouldn’t do that, but you could.
Fried Ipswich Clams
The sauce gives it a nice little kick, and the fried preserved lemon once again proves that you can fry almost anything.
It’s pretty much the only entree-sized dish on the menu. If the sight of the fried chicken talon freaks you out, don’t worry - it’s moist and flavorful enough to overcome that.