Wine lovers in the Raleigh area should head directly to Enoteca Vin, stopping only to make sure they have arranged a designated driver. I first read about Enoteca Vin in Food & Wine two years ago, and was charmed by the description of the space, and of the menu, and excited to see a young, female chef at the helm of the restaurant. When I found myself with plans to spend Thanksgiving in Raleigh, I immediately booked a reservation at Vin, as it is known by locals.
Ashley Christensen's menu is simple, concise and focused, which is all the better to place the emphasis on the main event - the wine. An extensive wine list is available for tasting in 1.5, 3.0, 5.0 oz glasses, or by the bottle; by-the-glass wines are "poured" from the restaurant's 32-tap Cruvinet , which line the back area of the expansive bar.
I would have been happy just sitting at the bar, tasting wine and cheese indefinitely, but our reservations were for dinner, and our party of five featured a diverse assortment of eating habits and preferences. It is worth noting that the vegetarian in our party had a limited selection of entrees; all but one dish was meat-based (she had the halibut, topped with roasted plum tomatoes and served over broccoli rabe.)
While we contemplated our dinner menus, I started with 3 oz glasses of the 2004 Pouilly-Fuissé (Frédéric Trouillet) and the 2004 Falanghina Mastroberardino. Both were crisp and dry, the falanghina being slightly more mineral-y and a little richer and meatier. The wine list is noteworthy for its breadth -- many lesser-known grapes are represented, old and new world wines peacefully co-exist, and no one region is highlighted over others. Something for everyone, in other words.
My dinner party skipped appetizers, but there were a few items on the 'starter' menu that caught my eye, so in lieu of an entree, I ordered the tuna tartare and the PEI mussels - the tuna came with two slices of sashimi and tangy, crisp pickled fennel (always a favorite garnish), and the plump mussels were in a rich white wine and mustard broth. If the mussels were available in an entree-sized portion, I would absolutely order them as a main dish again and again. My husband had the braised short ribs, which were stewed in red wine with root vegetables and apples; the short rib meat was falling-apart tender, and the apples were a subtle addition to the dish.
As the rest of the table finished their entrees (the halibut, the appetizer portion mussels, and the roasted chicken with brussel sprouts) I asked our knowledgeable server for help in selecting a Pinot Noir from the wine list - she recommended the Russian River 2001 Eric Ross "Saralee's", which ended up being a favorite of the entire table. It was smoky and delicate, and utterly delicious. Another favorite of the table was the 2003 Châteauneuf du Pape (Domaine La Barroche); we sampled a riesling, syrah and cabernet but the Saralee and the Châteauneuf du Pape were the most popular. (The table was too full for dessert, a shame as I had my eye on the cheese selection, but I will have to wait until my next visit to dive into that project.)
Enoteca Vin is definitely worth a visit; it manages to be comfortable and welcoming while providing a top-notch tasting atmosphere for novices and aficionados alike. Chef Christensen's menu is unfussy, influenced by green-market, new American style cooking -- I'd say the restaurant is more "Vin" than "Enoteca." But it's charming, and the comfortable menu is nicely balanced by the sophisticated wine bar.
Enoteca Vin accepts all major credit cards, and is open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday (brunch is served on Sunday). The restaurant is located in the old Pine State Creamery building at 410 Glenwood Avenue South, Suite 350.