I was introduced to The Ten Bells a few months ago, when I went for the Dresners' after-tasting party. Since then, I've been back another 4 times and liked it more every time. This is probably because it took me some time to get over the fact that they are cash only, and they serve amazing wines, but in the smallest glasses imaginable. The Ten Bells is a very informal French Bistro with no menus or lists. Everything they serve is written on huge chalk boards on the walls, where the decor is proportionally inverse to the quality of the plates and wines served. The service is home style, but the staff has a good grip on their extended wine list. As you can see in the picture to your left, they use a Erlenmeryer flask as decanter, the silverware is available in water glasses, and the bar napkins can be found in good old-fashioned silver dispensers, a symbol of many diners around the world.
Last night I went there with Bobby, an old friend who had moved to Austin a year ago or so. He came to visit and I brought him to The Ten Bells for some wine and food. We chose an impressive bottle of Chinon 1989 from Olga Raffault, an organic producer, like all others present on their list. This was a Cabernet Franc from 50 year-old vines, facing south over the beautiful Loire Valley, in Savigny en Veron. Emily, our helpful and prepared wine-tender uncorked the bottle and poured some in the 500 ml "decanter" and a small amount into our tiny glasses. Contradictions are part of the charm of this place, and I have learned to love them. The wine was already open and still very vibrant in the nose, the palate, and the finish - it really didn't show 20 years of age. Herbal spices, red currant with hints of mushrooms and barnyard filled the nose, very elegant, with a complex simplicity typical of wines made by great "vignerole" that respect the vines more than favoring the cellar. While the wine was breathing we picked from the above-mentioned chalk board a spicy duck tartare, some delicate and lean lamb prosciutto, an octopus and potato salad, delicious, warm, seductive, and spicy that comfortably melted in my mouth, and finally, some trustworthy Cacciatorini. The Chinon was flowing and quickly opening (even too quickly), with persistent minerality and clearthinness. The wine was structured and ethereal and the texture built on the mature and yet still firm tannins. In the end, I'm not sure this bottle benifitted from decanting, as it had a fairly short window of vibrancy, and I had the sensation that the wine was descending by the last glass.
The Ten Bells is located at 247 Broome St., between Ludlow and Orchard.