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Gal Fest 2009 is underway at this Danville tapas bar.


Photography by Cedric Glasier

Maybe you’re the type of eater who likes the idea of sampling five or six luscious little bits of food with an interesting glass of wine or two. Maybe you would just as soon have a bite of something as order a dish of your own. Or you order two appetizers, rather than an entrée. Or the idea of having a plate of red meat in front of you seems like a project.

Well, it’s a girl thing—or at least mostly. And just as little girls have the Build-a-Bear Workshop, big girls have Vinoteca, the lush, new small-plates restaurant in Danville.
A meal at Vinoteca isn’t so much about eating as it is about tasting.

The meal can actually begin with snacks, the restaurant’s littlest snippets of rich flavor. Order a wine that piques your interest—we loved the Tinto Figuero Tempranillo for its body and fruit, and the Anglim Rhône blend for its distinctive structure and spiciness—and check out the Moroccan-style fried chickpeas. They’re like cocktail peanuts with soul—nutty and sweet, slightly crisp on the outside, their wholesomeness a great foil to their spice.

Quickly moving from rich flavor to over-the-top scrumptiousness, the next must-try from the “nibbles” section of the menu is the sweet-salty sheep’s cheese–stuffed dates wrapped in bacon.

Giving Vinoteca a swanky, lounge-y feeling are deep burgundy walls, a ceiling the color of milk chocolate, a floor-to-ceiling dark velvet drape on one side of the room, and salsa and merengue music. Vinoteca is located amid the boutiques of East Prospect Avenue in the former Now We’re Cooking space. It’s not too hard to imagine a Danville shopper kicking off her platforms and collapsing onto the sofa that, along with two overstuffed chairs, encircles one of the tables in the front of the restaurant. Or hitting one of the high communal tables toward the back with a group of friends. Or maybe pulling up outside at one of the tables in front of the restaurant or in the back garden, all of which were planned to open last month.

The beauty of the approach at Vinoteca is, of course, that you and even one friend can easily enjoy four or five uniquely prepared dishes, without feeling stuffed—or as if you broke the bank. The “greens and things” section of the menu is especially strong in that way. Each small plate of bold flavors—including delicately grilled squid and greens, or some springtime asparagus swaddled in pancetta, or a roasted beet salad with spicy watercress and a citrus vinaigrette—costs $8 each, or three for $21.

You also might want to throw in a small sandwich from the bocadillos menu. The meltingly tender pulled pork and caramelized onion sandwich ($6) on grilled slices of rustic bread could not be more satisfying.

Now, just in case you have the impression that Vinoteca has a Boys Keep Out sign, we should mention that the restaurant, and particularly the bar, attracts its share of men. Really, the scene at the bar is pretty loud and fun, and it’s a mixed crowd. The wine list includes some big, manly-man reds—including some from Bennett Lane winery, owned by Danville resident Randy Lynch. Vinoteca patrons reportedly drank a whopping 33 cases of Bennett Lane in the first month the restaurant was open.
Despite the big-boy wines, don’t be fooled into thinking that the dishes at the bottom of the dinner menu, which range from $14 to $18, are big entrées. They’re called “petite plates,” and while the ones we tasted were excellent, they are in fact petite.

Two large diver scallops arrived at our table perfectly caramelized on top and like a soft, sweet cloud beneath. Their accompanying risotto, which displayed beautiful creaminess and vivid citrus flavor from preserved lemon, played nicely alongside the scallops, although the rice itself was a bit starchy and indistinct.

Lamb sirloin medallions were grilled to perfection, and their farro, mushrooms, Italian broccoli, and salsa verde had us mopping the plate with the fresh-baked focaccia. Neither entrée, however, is a meal.

Service at Vinoteca is efficient, and the staff is extremely friendly. One evening, the owner brought a high chair for a child’s stuffed bear. However, it seems as if the servers are instructed to lay it on thick, and the results vary. One young server sat with us at our table several times and for several minutes at a time. If we had wanted him to join us, we probably would have asked. Another server extolled the flavor of Vinoteca’s lamb, saying it didn’t taste gamey. “You know how some lamb almost tastes like hair?” he asked. No, we hadn’t considered that. Eew. Definitely a case where less would be more.

Nonetheless, stay for dessert, and enjoy enormous strawberries coated with a gorgeous Guittard chocolate and just a few bits of pistachio. Or a light and creamy panna cotta and sweet berries. Don’t want a dessert all to yourself? Just get your husband to order one—maybe a trio of sorbets—and then you can maintain the illusion of eating light while still enjoying most of it yourself.

CONTACT: 148 E. Prospect Ave., Danville, (925) 743-8466, vinotecadanville.com.
HOURS: Lunch and dinner Tues.–Sun.
PRICE: About $17 per entrée.
ALCOHOL: Wine and beer.  ■

at a glance

What makes it special: Boldly flavored snacks and small plates make a perfect accompaniment to well-chosen wines.
The space: Very groovy and stylish; a little loud.
When to go: Five o’clock seems like a good time for a Barcelona-style afternoon.
What to order: The pulled pork, the squid, the pancetta-wrapped asparagus, the scallops, the lamb, chocolate-covered strawberries. 
Bonus: Wines are available by the bottle, carafe, and glass.

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