The Austin Chronicle

Restaurant Review

Reviewed by Barbara Chisholm, July 11, 2008, Food

Tierra del Fuego Wine Bar

313 E. Second, 469-7988.
Monday-Saturday, 4pm-1am

"Where can we go where we can talk?" It's a question repeated thousands of times a night after any given performance. When clusters of people spill out onto a sidewalk having just taken in a play or concert or movie or exhibition and the urge to discuss and debate that which has been experienced is matched by the lure of beverages to stimulate such conversations, the question looms.

Where to go, indeed? It's not as if the city has a dearth of watering holes; we're lousy with gin joints from the holes in the wall (literally) to the überposh. Each of these spots offers different experiences to satisfy any mood. Wanna immerse yourself in the fabled Texas bar celebrated in countless songs? Head to the Horse­shoe Lounge or Deep Eddy Cabaret (whose name, "cabaret," could not be more misleading). Want a taste of red-carpet exclusivity? Slink your way to Pangaea or Qua. The celebrated live-music scene can be experienced from the Continental Club to the aforementioned Hole in the Wall and beyond. Singles can make sideways glances at any number of spots in the Warehouse District. College students roam from door to door on Sixth Street. But the right destination gets a little trickier when making the scene (or making a scene) isn't the goal. There are times when you just want to talk among friends in a quiet, social setting with lubricating beverages.

Located closer than the tip of South America, the new wine bar Tierra del Fuego is infinitely more hospitable than the Argentinean archipelago. Its location at the end of Second Street in the shadow of the Convention Center does make it feel a bit like an outpost, however. Curious how a block can change the landscape of Downtown so thoroughly; instead of throngs of diners or drinkers or scenesters, the 300 block of East Second is relatively quiet, at least when there isn't a convention letting out.

As the name suggests, Tierra del Fuego has an Argentinean edge and specializes in (but is not limited to) wines of the region. Flights of wines (such a fanciful term for "sample of three") are suggested in categories like the Bold and the Beautiful ($13) or Land of Fire ($14). And the proprietors, owners of the huge­ly popular restaurant Sampaio's, have put the trios together thoughtfully. In the big, red Bold and Beautiful flight, the theme of full-bodied reds was gracefully introduced and the ante subtly upped with each offering. The Land of Fire threesome included reds and whites, giving the sipper a wider view of the wine landscape.

Wines, while plentiful, are not the only liquid offerings. Specialty cocktails like a pomegranate martini or a caipirinha (sort of a Bra­zil­ian mojito) are also on the menu. And yes, you can order your personal favorites if you're a purist who savors his or her specific liquor.

On the food side of things, Tierra has a simple and sophisticated tapas menu that complements the classy beverages. Tostadas (bread toasts) ($10) are offered topped with tapenade or prosciutto and cheese, and prettily presented, too. An empanada sort of pastry called a Margarita Pastel ($10 for two) was flaky and warm and yummy with tomato, basil, and mozzarella. Perhaps most indulgent of the offerings is the Pão de Queijo ($9 for six), Brazilian cheese puffs that are served hot out of the oven and drizzled with balsamic vinegar. The spongy, cheesy interiors yield under a crunchy, golden exterior.

The whole vibe of the place is conducive to conviviality: Reds and ambers give everyone a glow, and votive candles flicker prettily. The front bar area is sleek with bottles providing a lot of the decor, while the back room has the feel of a private club with red sofas with black leather pillows. There is no snootiness about the place, however. It's as comfortable a place to catch up on long-overdue conversations as your living room, but with better lighting, more wines, food you don't have to prepare, and attentive service.

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