Fine Dining & Fine Art Meet at Vino

By Jan Walsh, Photography by Beau Gustafson

Vino is an intimate dining spot that celebrates its first anniversary this month. This dinner restaurant boasts a global wine list and handcrafted cocktails paired with fresh and healthy Mediterranean fare.

The Place

Vino is located at 1930 Cahaba Road in Mountain Brook’s English Village. Enter to the left side of the art studio. Here the patio provides al fresco dining with an outdoor fireplace and patio bar. Inside, a crisp white-on-white ambience provides a blank canvas for this candlelit, California contemporary styled restaurant. Vino also hosts private events in the restaurant, the patio and the functioning gallery with beautiful art on display.

Tonight, there is a cross-section of diners enjoying a beautiful evening at Vino. Outside on the patio are a group of friends who greet each other for their drink after work. At the patio bar, several businessmen let the day’s cares drift away with a cocktail or two. A group of UAB doctors are dining on the patio. And inside the dining room is a couple whose date night out is spent at Vino. I overhear the woman saying, “I am glad we discovered this place.”

The People

Restaurateur Al Rabiee’s preference for smaller restaurants is fulfilled with Vino. Rabiee’s son, Matthew, is Vino’s bar manager. His passion is also his work, seeking the best wines for Vino’s wine list and incorporating fresh fruits into Vino’s martinis and drinks. Rabiee previously operated Anthony’s near UAB and Assagio and Southside Bohemia in Five Points South.

Favorite Fare

From the martini list, we select Chilton County Strawberry Martini and Capannini Martini. We sip martinis with fresh French bread with herbed butter The deep-red strawberry cocktail bursts with freshness that only local berries can achieve. Yet it is a balanced cocktail, not too sweet, thus maintaining the integrity of a real martini. The Capannini is golden-brown in color with nice body and complex rummy flavors. Next time I must try Matthew’s signature martini, Lemon Berry Fusion, in which he muddles fresh local berries, lemon zest and Lemoncello and adds Stoli Vanilla Vodka.

The appetizers are my favorites at Vino. The place lends itself to pairing a bottle of wine with one of an array of apps and sides. And this is evident by the name of the appetizer list, “Soups, Scoops, Spreads, Frittangas and Skewers.” Tonight we select Artichoke Castroville and Fried Crab Claws for starters. The artichoke dish features a line-up of baked California artichoke hearts stuffed with Bulgarian feta. Creamy and pungent feta compliments — by  contrasting — with the artichoke’s acidity. This delicious dish is unique and highly recommended. And the scrumptious crab claws are plump, meaty and lightly battered and fried.

From Vino’s wine list, divided by region from Argentina, Australia, California, France, Italy, New Zealand, Oregon and Spain, we select The Crossings New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc to pair with our soup and entrees. Although we order a cup of the Lobster Bisque, with the first bite we sincerely regret passing up a bowlful of this creamy goodness. The bisque is filled with bites of lobster and topped with a bite of crab and a touch of olive oil. Dinner entrées include tonight’s special of skewered scallops and roasted pork tenderloin. The succulent scallops arrive over a crunchy and exotic mango, purple lettuce and beet slaw. The roasted pork tenderloin is spiral stuffed with herbs, adding layers of flavor to the meat. Accompaniments of grilled, organic summer veggies and a side of hot, crisp Skinny Fries round out this meal. Skinny Fries are also available tossed in hot sauce.

Desserts of mango sorbet and apple fritters finish our meal. The tangy mango sorbet arrives along with sweet and juicy local summer fruits — blackberries, blueberries and strawberries — and fresh mint from Vino’s garden. And our golden, crisp apple fritters arrive with vanilla ice cream topped with Frangelico, which adds hints of hazelnut. As our evening ends at this unique restaurant, I too am glad we discovered this place.

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