Enoteca Style, 1445 India St., Little Italy: 619-546-7138When in a wine bar, drink the wine. I'm tempted not to, since I've got beer-tunnel vision, and because Enoteca Style, like more and more wine bars, offers a decent beer selection—two taps and a good bottle list of mostly imports, some locals. But when the server came to take our order and my friends wanted to share a bottle of French red, I was in. Wednesdays are half-price bottle night, and I can't argue with that.
Even without the night's special, the wine would be a pretty easy sell. A lot of the bottles here moderately priced and the list is full of interesting alternative wines, beyond just the common varietals. It can all be had by the glass or the 3-ounce taste, if you're afraid to commit to a whole bottle. If you really like to sample, try one of the seasonal wine flights. Enoteca's summer flight is $10 and includes pours of three hot-weather refreshers: a Rosé, a Torrontes (a citrusy, floral Argentine white and my favorite) and the food-friendly Gruner Veltliner.
Gruner Veltliner's almost spicy acidity makes it a great foil for rich foods, and Enoteca Style's panini, named after streets in the wine bar's Little Italy neighborhood, are all hearty indulgences in sandwich form. The lunch special includes half a panini, soup or salad and a drink for $10, and whole paninis are $2 off during happy hour—3 to 6 p.m. weekdays—as is the draft beer. Glasses of wine are $4; the $12 bottles are an even better value if you have a friend and a few hours to spare.
The Laurel panini is akin to a tuna melt, the bread pressed good and crisp, holding together a warm filling of tuna with arugula, avocado and pepper-jack cheese. My friend liked the Cedar, roast beef sliced thin and topped with caramelized onions, gruyere and a truffled mushroom spread, but I prefered the pungent and spicy Kettner, which pairs roasted pork loin with mustard, arugula and gorgonzola cheese. Most traditional is the Ash panini, layered with Italian meats, spiked with peperoncinis and bound together with provolone.
Salads here are thoughtful, well put-together plates of complementary tastes and textures; it's nice to see kitchens giving just as much consideration to the components of a salad as they would an entrée. I don't often make a meal of just a salad, but I want to when it's the Moroccan cous cous salad; the cous cous clings to the leaves of the tender-crisp mixed greens, giving them more heft and chew while toasted almonds add crunch and feta cheese lends its salty tang. The lemon vinaigrette that dresses the salad is lightly applied—soggy salads are the worst—and the chopped mint and scallions provide fresh, bright flavor. Garnishes aren't merely sprinkle; they're generously incorporated throughout the salad.
Most of the salads, including the tangle of soba noodles and vegetables topped with ahi and ginger-sesame dressing and the sweet-salty spinach and pear salad with goat cheese and pine nuts, are a cut above—and they should be, since salads are Enoteca's business. The owners also run Salad Style on F Street, Downtown.
For a bite of bread without the carbo-load of a panini, try the bruschetta, which is tasty and light. Toppings range from chopped tomatoes on basil pesto or avocado with lime, a fancier version of my frequent at-home snack, smashed avocado on toast. (I sprinkle mine with fresh cilantro; here they season with scallions.)
And if there's a little wine left in the bottle, enjoy it with dessert. It's strawberry season, and the vanilla gelato strewn with chopped ruby fruit gets wonderful, grown-up flavor from a drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar and the delicious crunch of sea salt.
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