New dishes share the spotlight with the unique wines at Vino Vino
Reviewed by Claudia Alarcón, Fri., Jan. 14, 2011
Food: Sun.-Thu., 5:30-10pm;
Vino Vino4119 Guadalupe, 465-9282
Bar: 3pm-12mid; kitchen: Sunday-Thursday, 5:30-10pm, and Friday-Saturday, 5:30-11pm
When it first opened, Vino Vino's cuisine was definitely a backdrop to its incredible selection of wines available to drink on the premises or to take home and enjoy. But things changed in fall 2008 with the arrival of chef Esteban Escobar, who brings to the kitchen the same quality and dedication that owner Jeff Courrington places on the wine list.
The menu is in a constant state of flux, as Escobar is a firm believer in using seasonal – and mostly local – ingredients, working with local purveyors such as Antonelli's Cheese Shop for cheeses and Farm to Table for produce and meats. Although the menu doesn't have dozens of offerings, it is nearly impossible to pick one dish over another, inviting you to return and try the other one next time. Escobar's offerings are complex and well-executed without being too froufrou or over-the-top and are designed with special attention to pair with a variety of wines. The experienced and professional staff is ready to guide you with the best pairing suggestions for wine or food. Since the wine list offers many little-known varietals and exciting blends, these knowledgeable and friendly folks never hesitate to offer you a taste before you settle on the full glass or bottle of your dreams.
Escobar and his staff pride themselves on making almost everything in-house. One fine example is the charcuterie plate ($14), hands down the most thoughtfully arranged and beautifully garnished that I have ever had. Of course, the homemade selections change often; on our last visit it included a spicy (if a bit salty) andouille, pork rillettes, and a terrine of pork and sweetbreads, served with two kinds of house-made mustards and an eye-pleasing arrangement of pickled radish, fennel, haricots verts, and mustard seeds. I also love Vino Vino's approach to serving cheeses. Rather than the tired cheese plate with nuts and dried fruits, it makes cheese "dishes" that change as the chefs come up with new inspirations. Each cheese is served individually, with garnishes and complements that match and enhance its characteristics. For example, a generous portion of creamy blue Fourme d'Ambert comes with thinly sliced apples, ginger, and a balsamic reduction ($8), and Marieke Gouda is served with shallot confit, lemon, and olive oil ($7). We enjoyed these as appetizers with glasses of crisp and toasty Flor Prosecco ($10) and juicy Domaine Antugnac Pinot Noir ($8).
The selection of small plates ranges from snacks like olives and fries to seasonal salads, from bison sliders with aged Vermont cheddar to seafood offerings such as a bowl of mussels with fries, white wine, tarragon, and aioli. The one dish people are swooning for lately (including us) is the braised veal cheek ($12) – marinated overnight in milk, then braised with wild mushrooms and garnished with ricotta made from the milk marinade. This dish is so rich and spectacularly delicious that when asked to describe it, our server said she wanted to divorce her husband and marry the veal cheek.
We visited on a recent Sunday when Vino Vino serves paella beginning at 7pm. Coming from Mexico City, where paella is a traditional Sunday offering at many restaurants (and even supermarkets), I'm something of a paella snob. The most important component of this Spanish classic is the rice – the grains should be firm and separate, with a dry texture and the saffron's bright-yellow tint. Vino Vino's version was more like risotto: sticky, creamy, and slightly caramelized. But it tasted of saffron (even if the color wasn't right) and had meaty chunks of crispy pork, mussels, sea scallops, and chorizo – a great match for the Château d'Oupia Minervois Rose ($8). For me, the star of the evening was the entrée special, a perfectly cooked lamb rack ($30) with a savory chile pasilla reduction, radishes three ways (sautéed greens, roasted whole, and pickled slices), and fresh creamer peas. We matched it with a killer young Langhe Nebbiolo from Azienda Agricola Paitin ($10) and the easygoing Montirius Côtes du Rhône. Dessert consisted of a spectacular lemon pot au crème with a citrus tuille ($7) and an equally delectable, not-too-sweet goat cheese cheesecake topped with fresh orange segments ($8). We chased these down with a wee glass of Elvio Tintero Moscato d'Asti ($8), a perfect ending to a fun-filled evening.
Vino Vino is one of my favorite places for a relaxing and always positive experience. It hosts a lot of special events, vintner appearances, and live music, and its happy hours are well-attended and animated, with discounts on wine, beer, and selected appetizers. Whether it's to meet friends over a glass of wine that is neither overpriced nor found on every other list in town or for a memorable meal with plenty of flavor and zero pretension, this cozy Hyde Park wine bar never disappoints.