Apéro: Stylish New Wine-Dine Bar on P St.

Champagne and caviar are an unintimidating indulgence at Apéro, a stylish new wine bar and dining venue in Georgetown at 2622 P St. NW.

Advanced sommelier Elli Benchimol has transformed the townhouse that once was the After Peacock Room into this sophisticated, welcoming boîte. It’s inspired by the Parisian haunts where she met up with friends for early and late happy hours. The deep blue- and gilt-accented walls, the high-top tables with embedded wine corks, the Persian carpet, comfy banquettes and elegant bar evoke the belle epoque. There’s a charming garden patio, as well as street-side picnic tables for outdoor dining.

Benchimol’s extensive wine list reflects her interest in “grower” champagnes – i.e., made from grapes grown on the wine maker’s estate. She calls these the “fun part” of her extensive list and sees these individualistic expressions as the “future of champagne.” Indeed, she named her dog for the town of Bouzy where several of her favorite growers are based. Their pinot noir-based style is “fruity and full of body.” She explains that it goes exceptionally well with the “salty richness of caviar.”

Several of the caviar offerings on the menu can be paired with one or more of the champagnes by the glass for $50. The caviar service is clever, elegant and delicious. Specially sized waffles offer little “cradles” for the classic accompaniments of chopped egg, chives, capers, onion and creme fraiche. Among the other champagne, wine or cocktail food pairings are potato waffles with house-cured gravlax, deviled eggs, gougères and mushroom cigarettes. The gougères echo the “bready, buttery notes” of champagne, she explains. While the earthy mushroom and parmesan saltiness of the cigarettes pair well with a glass of Burgundy.

There are wine-friendly, French-accented dinners offered as well, such as confit duck, coq au vin and cod en pappillote. Rabbit, a “classic, sustainable protein,” is especially wine-friendly, says consulting chef Paul Stearman (currently the George Town Club, and formerly Marcel’s). He uses a Belgian preparation, cooking it with beer. He brightens the sauce with tart raspberries making it pair especially well with a fruity wine. His unique vegetable cassoulet is equally wine-friendly – the crispy eggplant topping contrasting with marinated and slow-baked tomatoes, carrots, green beans, roasted peppers and rosemary oil.

Desserts are wine-friendly, as well. Featured are hard-to-make canele, a pastry coated with beeswax, as well as a decadent Belgian waffle and an elegant pots au creme.

Benchimol postponed her much sought-after invitation to test for the top wine expert designation to open Apéro. (There are just 270 so accredited masters, worldwide.) She hopes to take the three-day test next year. Meanwhile, she has accumulated a wide-ranging wine list that ranges from 40-year-old, first- and second-growth Bordeaux to emerging “West Coast” style wines.


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