Fed Man 55: Vino Vino (32)

Mike Sutter’s Top 55 Austin Restaurants
No. 32: Vino Vino
4119 Guadalupe St. 512-465-9282, www.vinovinoaustin.com.
Hours: Kitchen 5:30 to 10 p.m. daily, until 11 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Bar 3 p.m. to midnight Monday-Friday and 5:30 p.m. to midnight Saturday-Sunday.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 10.17.12
At Vino Vino, wine is more than the name so nice you say it twice, with a by-the-glass list that changes to keep up with the restless tastes of owner Jeff Courington and manager Paula Rester, who’s leaving to handle the wine program at David Bull’s Congress. One night might bring Chateau de la Chaize to reclaim the proper regal red lean of beaujolais or a Domaine d’Ardhuy French chardonnay with a lusty California wink. Another night might bring a Chateau Chatelain malbec from Cahors that could teach the kids in Argentina how to behave. Glass prices run $9-$14, from bottles on suspension racks that line the walls like signal bars on an equalizer.
That part already makes Vino Vino more than Hyde Park’s wine bar-in-residence. Chef Jesse Marco’s kitchen carries it a step further. There’s a trained hand at work on seared veal sweetbreads ($12) lying across a willowy puree of white beans painted but not overwhelmed by harissa’s dusty heat. On top, a cobblestoned avenue of salsa verde lends acidity and another level of friendly fire. The sweetbreads are seared in large pieces rather than chopped into the apologetic popcorn the dish endures in less-confident kitchens. It’s a taste and texture like buttered land lobster, a delicate thing with the undeniable resilience and life force characteristic of organ meat. In a cracked bit of table theater, fat white beans patrol the edges of the dish like little organs of their own, understudies for the marquee attraction.
Vino Vino makes a version of mussels with fries ($12) as solid as anybody’s in town, with properly opened shells, thin golden potatoes and a broth with the turf-bound anchor of tarragon and a fortifying splash of white wine. And at a place with wine in its name two times, that one had better be right. It is. During happy hour (5:30-7 Monday-Friday), the mussels, sweetbreads and a few other appetizers are half-price and wine is $2 off. (Insider’s tip: A bowl of mussels and a pint of good craft beer is less than $10 during happy hour. Just don’t tell my fancy friends I was drinking beer at a wine bar.)
Beyond bar-friendly openers like flatbread with mozzarella ($10) and a Wagyu beef slider like an empire-building burger in miniature ($5), Vino Vino makes its case as a solid kitchen with Marco’s changing lineup of main courses from $15 to the low $20s. There might be flatiron steak or “duck ham“ with glazed carrots or a precisely grilled pork chop finished with vanilla glaze, a marvel from a few weeks back with Brussels sprouts and a tangled mane of caramelized onions. Scallops came four to a bowl with deeply bronzed faces and pearled interiors as dramatic in contrast as tan lines, with stout sunchoke pieces whose union of starch and fiber soaked up and refracted the garlic stock in every bite. Finished with green beans, a toss of slivered almonds and a crossroads of grilled bread, it was a dish both rustic and properly mannered.
Rustic tastes, proper manners and a thing for wine. All three of those traits come together in a simple dish of cheese, something to which Vino Vino devotes a good amount of its short menu. Example: An $8 dish of buttery, semi-soft raw cow’s-milk called Thomasville Tomme from Sweet Grass Dairy in Georgia, an operation I’ve grown to admire through social media for its sense of community, easy wit and website cheese photography that makes you wish you lived next door. The Tomme tastes like sunshine filtered through a cold pitcher of milk, and Vino Vino lays it down like Jenga blocks over a marmalade of tomato and orange that’s sweet, tart and acidic all at once. Good with wine, even better for dessert, an ambassador both for the dairy and the restaurant that bothers to get it right.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story indicated that Vino Vino offers retail wine sales. They no longer do. Paula Rester explains why: "When we implemented our bar program last year, we had to relinquish our license to sell retail. Guests may still 'cork' bottles to take home. And we do have a fab Savoy-inspired cocktail menu from Barman Brian Elder." (see the cocktail menu here)
(TOP: Pork chop with vanilla glaze and Brussels sprouts, left, and scallops with sunchoke. FIRST INSET: Thomasville Tomme cheese from Sweet Grass Dairy with tomato-orange marmalade; a Wagyu beef slider and one of the wine walls at this Hyde Park wine bar and restaurant. SECOND INSET: Veal sweetbreads with white bean puree and salsa verde. Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)
Mike Sutter’s Fed Man 55: Austin’s Best Restaurants