It was the start of summertime, and enoteca—the new Italian wine & panini bar in the old Vavino space—could not have picked a better date—June 21—to celebrate its grand opening. While the sunlight lingered on the longest day of the year, Restaurantarama guiltlessly sipped prosecco frizzante (that’s sparkling wine with just a whisper of bubbles) and munched on antipasti well past 8pm on a weeknight. Coincidence? Probably not. The solstice dovetailed nicely with the ultimate vision for the place that managers Megan Headley and Marisa Catalano told us about a few weeks ago—that of a “time portal” where patrons savor their wine and bruschetta while “letting the night take shape.”
Our night shaped up to be just as much a literary study as a viticultural one. Perusing the long list of 80-plus wines, we learned from the tasting notes that a 2001 Amarone della Valpolicella is “transcendental” and a 2005 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is “without airs.” Yikes, that’s a little intimidating—Restaurantarama’s taste buds are still struggling to understand the concept of “full-bodied.” No worries, though. The enoteca staff has been studying hard, they tell us, to guide patrons through the exhaustive menu. The wine list includes a red and a white selection from each of Italy’s wine regions from Piemonte to Sicily, one such helpful and well-trained server told us. And many of the selections are available by the bottle, by the six-ounce glass and by a convenient three-ounce tasting size.
This is definitely not the place to get a cheap buzz on or to tank up on eats before heading to a Live Arts show. This is a place to swirl and sniff and linger over your formaggi or share your bowl of Marcona almonds roasted in sea salt and thyme with newfound friends seated next to you at the long, communal tables. Just do like the Europeans do and pretend every day is the longest day of the year
It is with some sadness that Restaurantarama reports that Sweet Peas Neighborhood Bistro & Pour House at Lake Monticello will indeed be sold, but not to the winner of the contest we told you about a few months ago. Owner Joanna Yoakam told us she and her husband Dean received lots of responses from all over the country to their win-a-bistro essay contest. “People went crazy with creativity” she told us—one entrant sent them a huge bouquet of sweet peas and another sent his essay in the form of a menu. Unfortunately, the Yoakams did not receive enough entry fees (of $199 each) to cover their bank loan, and so they had to sell the family bistro the conventional way. Though the sale is still pending, Yoakam says she’ll likely turn over the keys around June 30. She expects the place will be closed for a few weeks of transition, but will reopen with a similar down-home menu of steaks and pasta that her loyal customers have grown to love.
Restaurantarama is still holding out hope that the win-a-restaurant concept will catch on so that aspiring entrepreneurs with more chutzpa than money will have a chance to enter the crazy culinary world.
Testing our mastery of the international language of food, Restaurantarama recently stopped by for some Mexican sweets at Las Palmas Bakery in the new Woolen Mills Pointe shopping center on Carlton Road. (That’s the same outer-Belmont dining spot that has given us Pad Thai.) The new bakery is the Charlottesville outpost of the Culpeper establishment of the same name. It’s short on English but long on yummy baked treats like empanada, which Restaurantarama did not have to consult the Pocket Dictionary of Ethnic Foods to determine means “pastry stuffed with sweet goodness.”
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