The small plates menu at House Red is small. Really small.
And that’s exactly the way it needs to be — at least for now, says Neb Mrvaljevic, who just recently opened a vinoteca and began serving food in his long-established Forest Park wine shop.
“Here, the wine is singing,” says Mrvaljevic, who specializes in unusual, artisanal wines. “[The dishes] are just the complements. Usually it’s the reverse in a restaurant.”
But the food — as humble as it is — sings too. Yes, the menu for now features just a short collection of wine bar classics: cheese and charcuterie platters; flatbreads; bruschetta; caprese salad; imported olives. But I am thoroughly impressed at the attention to detail House Red puts into these mostly Mediterranean bites.
“If we’re putting something out, it has to taste great and be made with love,” says House Red’s food director, Laura Gonsowski.
And sweetly enough, several of the menu items feature Gonsowski’s little loving, homemade touches.
Prosciutto and olive flatbread ($8) arrives topped with Gonsowski’s zingy olive tapenade as well as grape tomatoes, milky goat cheese, fresh basil and fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano. Bruschetta ($10) is served three ways: with the aforementioned olive tapenade, parm and roasted red peppers; tangy blue cheese, honey and chopped walnuts; and my favorite — Taleggio, red pear and Gonsowski’s fresh and gooey fig jam.
“Same as with our wines, we like to work with small purveyors,” Mrvaljevic says.
So House Red’s cheese and meat plates showcase high end, artisan goodies. Suffice it to say Gonsowski won’t be serving you a cold slab of supermarket brie or scraps of lunch meat. Instead, for example, the domestic cheese platter ($12) currently matches sheep’s milk Camembert, blue cheddar and creamy-smoky Gouda with roasted nuts and red pepper spread. And the charcuterie plate ($15) features fresh hand-sliced prosciutto, bresaola and sopressata garnished with cornichons and whole-grain mustard.
House Red also offers two simple but tempting sweets brought in from Chicago boutique confectioners.
“Open face s’mores” ($5) from Salted Caramel feature chocolate-drizzled toasty stout marshmallows sitting atop pretzel graham crackers. The Cracked Baker’s flourless chocolate cake ($8) is garnished with raspberry sauce and Kokku chocolate spread.
Mrvaljevic and Gonsowki have plans to expand House Red’s menu. They soon will install a stove in the vinoteca’s small kitchen. And Gonsowki would like to add “light, fresh pastas” and “grilled meat kebabs with dips” to her repertoire.
But Mrvaljevic wants to take it slow when it comes to adding more small plates to his small menu, he says.
“We want to grow, but we want to grow organically.”
7403 West Madison Street
Forest Park, Illinois 60130