Tango Wine Company2161 India St.Little Italy619-564-7700www.tangowine.com
If you're someone who prefers to start your night at 10 p.m. or later, hats off to you. I'm not wired that way. I can go out—and stay out—all night, but I need to start early and gain momentum as the evening progresses. I like to first find a mellow spot to have a couple drinks and ease into night-mode; bonus points if I can also get something good to eat.
Lately, my jumping-off point has been Tango Wine Company in Little Italy. The shop has a modest but comfortable set-up, little more than a couch, a couple of tables and few dozen boxes and crates of wine bottles, but that's all I really need. And its location in the India Street Design Center, flanked by mostly 9-to-5 storefronts, means that parking is usually plentiful around dinnertime.
My first introduction to Tango came from a friend who lives in the neighborhood. We met up for a champagne tasting—lots of good, fancy French stuff—though we're still talking about the last drink they served us, the world's easiest cocktail: sparkling wine and lime juice over ice. It's more delicious than it sounds and a great use for that so-so bottle of bubbly hanging out in the back of your fridge.
Most of Tango's wines are in the $25-and-under range, with many South American varietals that tend to be more affordable than a lot of their Californian and European counterparts. On Friday nights, Tango offers three generous tastes of wine for $5 and gives occasional wine classes for a mere $10 a session that include a flight of five wines plus cheese, bread and snacks. Though I've yet to sample something whose label I've been compelled to take a camera-phone photo of (a wine-geek thing), nothing I've tasted has been disappointing for the price. The shop allows people to buy any bottle and open it to enjoy on the premises without the $5 to $10 corkage fee that's common at most wine bars. It's rarely seen gesture that goes far in fostering loyalty.
Tango doesn't sell food, but they do have a food license, which means we can bring our own. While it's not carte blanche to spread out a tablecloth and roll out a four-course meal, any foods that are easy to transport and eat are welcome, and the staff at the shop is always warm and accommodating. One night, I picked up a couple of pies from Sicilian Pizza in North Park (4046 30th St.), one a square Sicilian-style pizza with a thick but crunchy bottom crust, loaded with meat, and a thin-crust round plain cheese, ordered at the request of a friend who wanted to evaluate the sauce without the distraction of toppings. The thick crust was good, if a little heavy for more than a slice or two, but the thin version, with its chewy-crisp foldable slices that weren't too greasy, merits a chow-down. We shared a bottle of sparkling wine, which is my pizza beverage-accompaniment of choice (besides beer), and then dispatched another bottle, this time a Pinot Noir, with Sicilian's super-delicious finger-length cannoli.
European Market and Deli (4135 Park Blvd.) in University Heights, provided the fixings for another wine-and-food fest, this time Greek-themed, with plates of their special roasted lamb, only available on Friday and Saturday and by reservation only (call 619-298-8661 and ask for Sophie). We also picked up some of the market's moist and flavorful oregano-rubbed chicken and tender stuffed grape leaves. European also makes excellent moussaka. I couldn't resist a jar of taramosalata, a creamy, lemony dip flavored with fish roe. It was a favorite of mine as a kid—and it's no wonder no one ever wanted to trade lunches with me.
For Casbah regulars, Tango Wine is a good spot for pre-concert fortification (and likely where you'll find me before a show!). The club is just a short drive or healthy walk away, and the wine bar is conveniently situated a few steps from Mona Lisa Deli, home to some of the most stellar sandwiches in town. Savory sopressata subs on crusty Solunto bread and a couple of airy and sweet Amaretti di Saronno cookies combined with bottle of vino can only be the precursors of good things to follow.