Recently, my wife and I moved to Tarzana and have been scouring the neighborhood looking for delicious restaurants that don’t break the bank. We visited several that were quite the fail and then we found our current favorite. I present to you: Vino Wine & Tapas Room. Located on Ventura in Encino, this small, comfortable eatery whips up delicious fare.
We have been to Vino several times now and they have many different dishes and wines. Although their wine list has a nice array from different regions around the world, we usually pay corkage. We took my grandparents recently and had a wonderful time at a semi-private table near the back. I brought one of my favorite rosé Champagnes, Billiot, and it paired wonderfully with many of the tapas. Billiot is a grower champagne with grapes from Ambonnay. All Grand Cru juice, the value is outstanding. Pairing with the Billiot, we had Manchego, a thick slice of the cheese on a croqueta smothered with a sweet tomato vinaigrette. We also had Albondigas, a sirloin meatball on top of savory mashed taters. I love how rosé Champagne (or any rosé for that matter) pairs with so many different foods and can even cross over and pair with meats. The Billiot rosé is beautiful and offers a nose of dough, cinnamon, orange zest, and berries like raspberry and cherry. Full creamy bubbles and delicious lip-smacking acidity constitute the palate.
My favorite “big” small bite is the New Zealand Lamb Chop. I love pairing lamb with Syrah, and one of my favorite Syrahs is JL Chave Crozes-Hermitage from the Northern Rhone valley. It pairs magically with lamb. Soft tannins with tart raspberry flavors, all meshed together with fresh cracked black pepper, this is a classic French Syrah. Syrah is fast becoming one of my favorite varietals. It’s very versatile with food and I simply relish the peppery flavors. The chops are prepared with, what do ya know, pepper and herbs encrusted with a wine reduction sauce on top.
The ambience is terrific and on most weekends, they have live saxophone crooning at the front of the restaurant. The chairs are very comfortable and the service is super friendly. I like to describe the lighting as happy and dark. All wine is served in Riedel stemware (specifically, Vinum Extreme). For a less personal experience, there is always at least a small crowd at the bar where energetic conversations abound. I highly recommend checking Vino out, but make sure you come by and pick up a couple bottles from me, custom matched for your food.
A couple weeks back a few friends and I saddled up for a night out at Animal Restaurant on Fairfax in Hollywood. For those of you not from the LA area, here’s a quick background on Animal. Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo opened Animal in spring of ’08 after skyrocketing to the top of the rough and ramped Beverly Hills catering scene. Their outlaw-style cooking caught the attention of The Food Network, which then gave them their own docudrama series “Two Dudes Catering.” These “two dudes” also earned the prestigious Food & Wine Best New Chefs award of ’09. The restaurant specializes in meat (obviously).
Looking over the menu online beforehand (which can be dangerous), we decided to bring some wine. We kicked it off with a 2001 Le Montrachet from Moret-Nomine. The sommelier’s eyes popped. Even though this wine is still an infant, it showed good density, subtle sweetness, richness, and was very powerful and chewy. It was killer with the veal brains, vadouvan, apple sauce & carrot dish, and the rabbit legs, sugar snap peas & black trumpet starters.
After that killer hit, we opened (and finished) a magnum of 1996 Rocche Dei Manzoni Barolo Vigna D’la Roul and a 1995 Chateau Margaux Pavillon Rouge of Chateau Margaux. At this point, our entire table was covered with wine bottles, food and tons of plates. If you’ve eaten at Animal, you know the entire dining room only seats about 45-50 people. Being a party of four, we only had a small four-top making space scarce. This made for an interesting time juggling plates since we ordered almost the entire menu. The Vigna Roul showed exceptionally well with hints of ripe plum, good spiciness and a bit of cocoa. The Margaux had a bit of mint, chocolate and vanilla. Both wines went well with Buffalo style pig tails, flat-iron steak, balsamic pork ribs, poutine with oxtail gravy, and the other four dishes we ordered.
To finish the night, we took all four desserts. My favorite was the bacon chocolate crunch. We accompanied it with a 1973 Eitelsbacher Karthäuserhofberg Spätlese from the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer QmP appellation. I was surprised how damn good it was since ’73 was one of the largest crops on record. This wine was also made for early consumption, but it showed really well nearly 40 years later. It still had a wonderfully light petroleum nose, some citrus and caramel, dried flowers and a bit of sweetness, while still showing enough fruit.
All in all, the night went off without a hitch.