In an age when business casual is the new formal, wine bars have been given a mandate: pair sophistication and approachability as nimbly as champagne and caviar. Le Plonc, the 18-month-old wine bar on Castro Street in Mountain View, has heeded this call, creating a stylish space and accessible menu that attracts both casual sippers and discerning oenophiles.
The name is the first hint that Le Plonc aims for inclusiveness. According to the bar's Instagram, the term "plonk" originated during World War I, when Australian soldiers stationed in France had difficulty pronouncing "vin blanc" (white wine). The term eventually morphed into an Aussie slang term for cheap wine. Le Plonc's owners, who set affordability as a founding principle, adopted the word as the official business moniker and put a cheeky French spin on it.
Le Plonc's design integrates contemporary furnishings -- think clear acrylic bar stools and black z-shaped chairs -- with lived-in elements like the comfy couches that dot the rectangular room. Large-scale abstract paintings by actor/artist Gregory Scott Bedford add vivid strokes of color to the walls, while a front-facing outdoor seating area fills up this time of year, despite the fall chill.
Just because Le Plonc's wines are reasonably priced -- most glasses run between $10 and $12 and several bottles in the $40 range are featured -- does not mean that the wine list plays it safe. The "wines by the glass" menu bypasses popular labels in favor of intriguing, lesser known vintages. During my initial visit, I searched in vain for a bold -- and predictable -- cabernet sauvignon. I was instead offered a choice between a dense, tannic 2015 petite syrah from Vinum Cellars ($12) or a full-bodied 2018 Merlot blend from Veneto's Gran Passione Rosso ($12). I savored the spicy blend and was glad to have ventured outside of my California comfort zone.
My companions filled their glasses with a bright, fruity 2018 Aerena rosé ($14), an herbaceous 2017 Tohu sauvignon blanc from New Zealand ($10) and a crisp, grainy Rebel pilsner from the Czech Republic ($8), one of five beers on the menu. A handful of cocktails made from low-alcohol gin or vermouth -- approved for beer and wine licensees -- are also offered. The gin and jasmine spritz ($12) was light, bubbly and refreshing.
Though the bar veers from the everyday for its wine offerings, there's a more populist approach to food. Recognizing that few culinary experiences are as satisfying as the luscious pairing of fermented grape juice with salty, fatty meats and cheeses, Le Plonc highlights charcuterie and cheese boards.
My dining companions and I indulged in the charcuterie daily selection ($24) which contained copious amounts of prosciutto, peppery saucisson sec and soppressata, an Italian dry sausage. The meats were accompanied by chewy levain bread, Marcona almonds and a dollop of Dijon mustard. The sumptuous cheese daily selection ($24) showcased rich servings of velvety chèvre, nutty comté and brillat savarin, a French triple cream cheese. Artisan crackers, grapes, fig jam and a piece of honeycomb rounded out the board. (Gluten-free crackers are available upon request, a nice touch.)
The menu lists only a handful of individual plates, including the buttery, tender petit filet mignon ($25) and the roasted duck a l'orange ($23), a faithful rendering of the classic recipe featuring a tart, rich citrus glaze tweaked with an appropriate modicum of sweetness. While the items are flavorful and well-executed, the portions are small. I suggest augmenting these orders with a side or salad.
Don't be fooled by the seeming simplicity of the roasted fingerling potatoes with sea salt and chives ($7). They were my favorite item on the menu. Arriving at the table piping hot and fresh from the oven, an extra virgin olive oil infusion softened the lightly crisped skins and gave the potatoes a splendid silkiness.
The arugula salad ($14) tantalized with a combination of fresh greens, strawberries, red onion, feta and walnuts, while the avocado tartine ($15) made a more middling impression. The bright green slivers of avocado were alluringly presented on slices of crusty fresh bread, but the burrata cheese topping was lumpy and lacked the desired creamy, lustrous texture.
Dessert options include an affogato of espresso and Frangelico liquor poured over gelato ($9), bread pudding ($11) and a flourless chocolate torte ($13). Our server touted the yuzu cheesecake topped with strawberry puree ($11).
It's imperative for a wine bar to have knowledgeable staff on hand to educate patrons and make thoughtful recommendations. Le Plonc's servers deftly met this challenge, asking astute questions to help pinpoint the ideal selection for each guest. Interactions were genuine and unhurried, even as the crowd approached capacity.
One detail played an outsized -- and annoying -- role during both of my dinner visits. Dishes and glassware for a party of two could not fit on the miniature cocktail tables lining the interior walls. Consequently, servers were forced to engage the table in an awkward choreography, requiring us to rearrange plates and consolidate orders on the tiny rounds. If purchasing larger tables did not fit the bar's budget or aesthetic, designating these areas as "beverage only" would be an easy fix.
Le Plonc's success at the Mountain View location has led to a curious growth trajectory. A smaller Sunnyvale site opened this past spring, followed soon after by a luxe, full-service operation nearly 8,000 miles away in Melbourne, Australia.
From Silicon Valley to Down Under in just over a year. That calls for a toast with a glass of really great plonk.
331 Castro St., Suite 100, Mountain View
Hours: Monday-Thursday, 4-10 p.m. Friday-Sunday, 2-10 p.m.
Credit cards: Yes
Outdoor seating: Yes
Parking: Street and garage
Alcohol: Beer and wine
Corkage: $30 per bottle
Noise level: Moderate