I can’t say U street is the first neighborhood that comes to mind when I’m deciding where to eat dinner. Sure, there are a few choice spots and classic haunts; however, if you ask what word comes to mind first, it’s “drinks,” not “dinner.” But now, I’ve got the right place up my sleeve that delivers on both the drinks and the dinner fronts: Vinoteca.
Having previously thought of Vinoteca as the place where I could satisfy a craving to play bocce while having a good glass of wine (what? Sometimes those things coincide), I somehow forgot that the five-year-old wine bar also served dinner. There’s a mix of small plates for sharing, as well as larger entrees that could even be split if you’re not starving. There are the appetizers you might have seen before, such as pan con tomate topped with jamon Serrano and manchego cheese, or an Appalachian cheese paired with green apples and candied onions. But then there are more unusual bites like the petite, pickled kiwiberry with onion or more jamon layered over a housemade, salty fish cracker.
I know you might not think to opt for liquor over wine at a wine bar, but start off with a cocktail–the kind with interesting ingredients that you’re unlikely to stock in your own home bar but wish you could. For example, the light and refreshing “Bonal sparkling cocktail” combines aperol, grapefruit juice, St. Germain, Bonal Gentiane-Quina, Toso Blanc de Blancs and a dry sparkling wine. Or the “Spanish Spirit” that combines gin with two types of sherry, a French aperitif called quinquina and a housemade thyme syrup.
After the small tastes, the main entrees were what really won me over. A dish of warm and sweet creamed corn with luscious foie fras and fat chanterelle mushrooms is one of the richer and more decadent dishes I’ve had in a long time. With more slow-cooked or poached eggs nestled on top of bowls of pasta popping up on menus across the city, it can be a challenge to make them memorable. But the 63 degree egg on top of linguine with squid ink, hazelnuts and shaved bottarga (cured fish roe in layman’s terms) magically transformed the yolk and white to the same gooey consistency. Good luck trying to ever replicate that in your own kitchen.
Another nice touch from chef Lonnie Zoeller that you’ll see carried out throughout different dishes is how he incorporates the entire vegetable in the dish. Braised turnips come along with their tops, as do the baby maroon carrots that accompanied the thick, charred cuts of angus strip loin.
Dessert to round out the meal was another display of thoughtfulness and creativity from the chef—a crème fraiche ice cream with a white sweet potato and banana gelee topped with spindly, crunchy straws of fried sweet potato and a dusting of nutella powder (can I get that on waffles every morning, please?).
So next time you’re tasked with picking the place for a dinner date or where you and a small group of friends should dine before a night out on U street, step into the brick townhouse at Vinoteca and bring your best bocce game for afterwards.