The curtain goes up tonight on Waxlight Bar a Vin, one of the most eagerly anticipated Buffalo restaurants in years.
The restaurant at 27 Chandler St. is a small place with big ideas.
“Unique” is a word that gets abused frequently in the food service space. It means singular, the only place on Earth you can have this dish.
Read the Waxlight menu, and I’m not sure what other word applies.
Roast chicken potato chips ($5), banana miso praline nuts ($4), charcoal French bread with fresh za’atar ($4), and chicken liver with smoked wild apple and swiss Cheez-Its ($8) don’t overlap with anything else in Buffalo. Those are the bar snacks. Back it up with a carefully curated drinks lineup that includes housemade cordials, riffs on classic cocktails and a champagne of the day.
The buzz began because all five of its owner-operators have drawn their own following in Buffalo food-fan circles.
Joseph Fenush (Toutant), Jessica Railey (Dobutsu), Tony Rials (Mike A's, Bourbon & Butter, Billy Club), Jeff Yannuzzi (Toutant, Community Beer Works) and Edward Forster (Mike A's at the Lafayette, Buffalo Proper, Dapper Goose) are each familiar faces to Buffalo restaurant followers.
The buzz heated up recently when crowds got a few peeks at Waxlight’s interior spaces. Blue velvet couches under gaslamp light fixtures disguise the industrial vents well. The space, 67 seats between dining room, lounge and bar, is but a sliver of the cavernous Thin Man Brewery down the street.
The other factor that makes Waxlight unusual is its structure. It’s run by “a team of owner-operator sommeliers and chefs who have dedicated their lives to creating food and drink experiences,” as its website says.
They get help with ingredient preparation, and dishwashing, but there are no servers or bartenders. That means that everyone who talks to customers is an owner, intimately involved in the decision-making that has created the experience.
Which is good, because reading the menu offers two choices: trust the place, or grill the staffer in front of you with detail questions.
The opening menu is concise, with four snacks ($4-$8), five small plates ($6-$15), five larger offerings ($11-32) and five sweets ($4-$10).
Here’s one dish menu description: Charred and soured cabbages on brioche with soubise, our neighbor’s mushroom, “beef bushi” ($11).
Let me Google that for you: soubise is long-cooked onion-butter. Bushi is dried, fermented, smoked meat, beef heart in this case, shaved over dishes like its inspiration, Japanese katsuobushi, the amberjack tuna original.
[Related: Original announcement of Waxlight's coming]
Do you like potato skins? Wonder what "potato puree, roasted potato skin and black garlic gravy, with foie gras butter ($14)" might be like?
It might even drive you into the arms of a roasted banana cocktail with Indian spice, nut, anise and cacao ($12). Or a glass of xinomavro red wine from Thymiopoulos Vineyards in Macedonia ($12).
The most expensive dish is “Atlantic halibut, aerated and crispy chickpea, chorizo oil ($32).”
The rest of the menu is pretty much like that. Who knows what “Toasted rice, pickles, aioli ($14)” will look like? Or “bitterballen, crispy croquette of roasted chicken gravy, miso plum catsup ($6).”
We’re just going to have to find out, gosh darn it.
INFO: Waxlight Bar a Vin, 27 Chandler St. Hours: 5 to 10 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Reservations are available through Tock.
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