Photography by Beau Gustafson
Birmingham boasts some lovely restaurant patios, but none are quite like Vino’s. This open air space has no hedges, fences, or walls. It is a white scape of space with white pebbles underfoot and small white lights in the tree branches above its candlelit tables. Tonight Kevin and I met friends for dinner with no plans to do a review. But after dinner, I knew that this special dining experience had to be shared.
Vino is located at 1930 Cahaba Road in Mountain Brook’s English Village. The massive patio provides al fresco dining with an outdoor fireplace and patio bar. Inside, the same crisp, white-on-white ambience serves as the backdrop for dinner, which is served Monday through Saturday. Vino hosts private events in the restaurant, patio, and the functioning art gallery, Gallery 1930, which is in the process of expanding. The new expanded part of the gallery will become home to Vino’s sister restaurant, Gallery Bar, expected to open in late summer. The new oyster bar will feature a variety of oysters from the Atlantic and Pacific along with a full service bar and a large selection of Grower Champagnes.
Restaurateur Al Rabiee greets us with a hug. Rabiee is known as one of the most genuine and kindest people in Birmingham’s restaurant scene. Before opening Vino in 2011, Rabiee previously operated Anthony’s near UAB and Assagio and Southside Bohemia in Five Points South. His wife, Becky, is Vino’s chef. Mona MacDougal serves as the pastry chef, making the most delicious desserts. The Rabiees’ son, Matthew, is Vino’s bar manager, managing Vino’s wine inventory. He also sources and incorporates local, fresh fruits for Vino’s martinis and drinks. And with the upcoming opening of Galley Bar, the family is excited to fulfill yet another restaurant dream.
Vino lends itself to lingering over appetizers while sipping champagne. So tonight we do just that with a bottle of Heidsieck Monopole. From the “dips, spreads, seafood, crudo, skewers, bites, and delicacies” section of the menu, we order the imported assortment of olives, artichoke Castroville, and sautéed crab claws. Vino only offers the claws when they are “fresh and plump.” I never pass them up when available because they are among the best anywhere. Rabiee treats us to a gorgeous array of crostinis and potato latkes, making quite the spread. The chickpea hummus and taziki crostinis are the favorite of the crostinis, but all are delicious. We could make a meal of these and the potato latkes, topped with sour cream. These hot hashbrown-style cakes go so fast that we decide to order a platter. The huge, meaty claws melt in the mouth. And the lovely artichokes enveloping rosemary and feta add a touch of green to our appetizer feast.
The favorite entrees of the evening are capellini vino and roasted grouper and fennel. Capellini vino has it all. The capellini pasta is mixed with large pieces of chicken, wilted baby spinach, scallions, and diced tomatoes in a spicy cream sauce. It entices everyone who did not order it and delights those who did. The grouper is also outstanding. This succulent filet is served with spinach and grape leaves, capers, and a divine orzo pasta. We pass on dessert, but do not leave without it, because Rabiee treats us to a take-home bag of hot apple fritters. After an evening of dining al fresco, we continue it by putting the top down on the convertible and eat the best hot apple fritters all the way home.