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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

11 things you should know about Paper Plane

Paper Plane. A nice dark place to drink.

There's one thing you need to know about the new Decatur bar/restaurant called Paper Plane: Paul Calvert runs the bar.

What? You want to know more? You're right - this would be a horrible entry if that's all I told you. So here are 10 more things you should know about Paper Plane.

1. Paper Plane likes its privacy. Website? I haven't found one. Street signage? Don't think so. Doors??? Yes, two actually, one through the back hallway of the new Victory Sandwich Bar in Decatur, the other through the adjacent alley. Don't give up hope - you will find it, and it's worth seeking out.

Beets. Goat cheese. Hazelnut.
  • Courtesy Paper Plane
  • Beets. Goat cheese. Hazelnut.
2. It's dark in there, in a good way. The darkness sets the vibe, which is decidedly '70's, also in a good way. It feels like the kind of place where men should be in suits. Where Sinatra would feel at home. Drinking heavily. There's dark wood paneling all around the intimate, rectangular room. Tall, dark leather booths, five of them, line the walls. Narrow windows over the booths keep incoming light to a minimum. Dark liquor abounds behind the bar that is the focal point of the restaurant, typically packed with people. And just look at my dark iPhone photos. Dark.

3. Paul Calvert is fastidious, and friendly, and so is the rest of the staff. Just ask Calvert about the gorgeous walnut wood paneling around the room - apparently, it's all cut from a single tree so that the wood grain patterns line up perfectly. Except for one small corner of the bar, where a minor imperfection drives Calvert crazy. (Fastidious is a good thing for a bartender. If you're off 1/4 ounce with one ingredient in a cocktail, it could throw things terribly out of whack.)

4. Paper Plane is a great place to drink. Start with the cocktails. Really. The initial list features an array of intricate and supremely well-balanced beauties ranging from sweetly (dangerously) fruity and intriguing - the Herbert West with Combier pamplemousse liqueur, Cocchi Americano Rosa, and gin - to massively dark and nuanced with an herbal bite - the Permanent Collection with cognac, vermouth, Benedictine, Fernet Branca, and bitters. Of course, the bar will whip something special up for you based on your tastes as well.

5. Paper Plane is a great place to drink (part II). The short, eclectic wine list is full of unusual, Old World bottles - 18 or so wines, most of them available by the glass. Ever try a Picpoul de Pinet? Or California Carignan? Or a Spanish Mencia? Here's your chance. I had my eye on a bottle of Littorai Sonoma Coast pinot noir, priced well at 1.5 times retail, but couldn't resist the cocktails. There are also 16 or so bottled beers, including several Belgians and a diverse mix of American craft beers like Great Divide Yeti or Cisco Grey Lady.

Fennel Panna Cotta. Strawberry Soup. Candied Fennel.
  • Brad Kaplan
  • Fennel Panna Cotta. Strawberry Soup. Candied Fennel.

6. Paper Plane is a good place to eat. The cuisine, by chefs Melissa Allen and Josh Sample, tends towards the composed and slightly fussy. What I've tried has been enjoyable, but the approach to the food doesn't quite jibe with the overall feel of the place. Is a dark, cozy booth the kind of place you want to sip on a bowl of cucumber soup with lemon, umeboshi, mint, and crème fraîche? Is a seat at the manly bar the right place for a super crisp, brightly tart endive salad with bitter arugula, blood orange, salty Marcona almonds, and fragrant lavender? Or a colorful composition of beets and goat cheese with crispy rye bread crumbs? They're delightful dishes, and maybe I'm overthinking it, but these feel like they'd be more at home at No. 246 around the corner. The meatier dishes seem like a better fit - perhaps a carnitas-like cube of crisp-on-the-outside pork belly over parsnips and ramps, or a sweet and sticky glazed char siu quail with Szechuan peppercorn over crunchy, spicy okra. There are 14 diverse, smallish plates in total, spanning soups, salads, sides, and creatures big and small. Priced from $6 to $16.

7. Dessert is durn good. Fennel panna cotta? Yes, please. Again, the presentation is a bit fussy, topped with carefully scattered graham cracker crumbs and chunks of candied fennel, young strawberries strewn about, a thin red soup surrounding it all. The soup seems an unnecessary visual ploy, but the panna cotta's subtle fennel flavor at first builds into a powerful punch as you quickly scoop it up. More in keeping with the surroundings is the dark chocolate cake with cardamom ice cream and cacao nibs.

8. Look for new things soon. Two months in, the menu (cocktails and food) will be getting its first major refresh in June. No telling where Paper Plane will go, but expect seasonal changes to set the course.

9. You'll be able to reserve one of the desirable six person booths. Soon.

10. Plans are for the adjacent alley to soon be populated by outdoor tables. Soon.

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