Neighborhood: U Street
Looking for booze after a disappointing visit to Shaw's Tavern (of the mindbogglingly mishandled liquor license situation), Official Friend of DCWD Jax and I hit up Vinoteca. And later that week, I visited again with a group headlined by Official Girlfriend of DCWD Texas.
Vinoteca is a wine bar, but in some ways it's a restaurant made up of bars. When you walk in, there's the conventional bar, a ten-seat black granite piece that hugs the restaurant's right side, with chalkboard menus in back. This space is complimented by two additional bar-style seats: some bar seating in the window, and a large central divider that serves as more bar seating. The latter is a particularly interesting space; high enough that you have to sit on stools, but low enough that you're practically sitting on top of the two-tops on the other side. The bartenders are the ones that serve you in these seats, so be prepared to wait a little bit; on our first visit, they seemed disinterested in getting to us. The waitress on our second visit was much better.
On the other side of the red-tiled space that makes up the bar is the main dining area, lined by half-booths around its edges with two large sixes in the middle, and finished off by the aforementioned row of twos. The decor is more chalkboards, with a few wine racks and bottles here and there. A soft glow is provided by orb lights, though that seems overwhelmed by the constant noise level.
Lastly, of note are the two outdoor spaces: the large patio out front, and the bocce court in back. They are beautiful spaces, though not ones I got to on these two night trips. Still, between those and the various options inside, a great first date place though maybe not date three to five; between the eavesdropping potential and the din, tough to get in a real conversation.
Like virtually every wine bar, Vinoteca serves a bunch of small plates, and Jax and I each chose a few. For herself, she had a side of pickled carrots and onions, the goat cheese flight, and the arancini. The flight was comprised of three cheeses: fenacho from Oregon, cana de cabra from Spain, and the Manchester, which Jax switched for Spanish garroxta, fearing the raw cheese. Served with a few figs, the fenacho was the winner. As for the arancini, which for the unfamiliar are fried risotto balls, this time with saffron and goat cheese, aioli, baby field greens, a tomato sherry vinaigrette, and parmigiano reggiano cheese, they were okay but a little dry. The saffron taste wasn't there and I wish they were a little creamier, but decent.
For my part, I ordered the marmelada crostini, topped with orange marmelade, more cana de cabra, and a membrillo paste. A nice bite to have, with some sweetness to it, and definitely fit in well with both the vibe and the palate. But the real winner was the pork belly with strawberries in port. Yes, it's pork belly, and I've already admitted that I'm a fiend. But the combination of the savory perfectly-cooked unctuous meat with the chart-topping sweet from the berries and port was divine. I could eat this every day and twice on Sunday, it was that good. Weeks later, I can still taste it.
Though not everything is great. On our second trip, Texas and I sampled the yellowfin tuna crudo, mixed with avocado, grapefruit, trout roe caviar, micro greens, orange blossom vinaigrette, and pink Peruvian sea salt. It might seem like flavor overload, and you would be right... if that flavor was grapefruit. The tart citrus dominated, and took attention away from the key fact: the tuna was just so blah. Perhaps not as fresh, and definitely not as flavorful as it needed to be. Definitely a miss.
A menu of amazing dishes but also with definite misses. And given its limited options, probalby worth a brunch trip, or a nightcap, just maybe not for a full dinner.
Food Rating: *** (out of 5)
Date Rating: 4 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code: Casual
Bar Rating: Hipster Hangout to Party in the USA
Cost: $$ (out of 5) ($25-$50 for two)
Pairing: I mean, there's a bocce court. Need I say anything more?