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Vinoco Wine Bar & Tapas

A server jokes with patrons at Vinoco restaurant

A server jokes with patrons at Vinoco restaurant in Mineola. (June 23, 2011) Photo Credit: Yana Paskova

Carlos Roman and Alex Meza possess mucho Latin charm as well as a hot new wine bar and tapas cafe. The two former waiters used to work in Manhattan for Bobby Flay and David Bouley, respectively.

But enough with the name dropping. What matters is what they're doing in Mineola: serving up an intriguing repertoire of global small plates.

BIG FLAVORS

One dinner kicks off with crisp roasted potatoes a la brava in a piquant red chili aioli. Soft, steamed Asian buns enfold a seductive filling of pork belly, hoisin sauce, cilantro and pickled daikon. So pretty, a trio of potato timbales, one with octopus, another with shrimp and a third with lump crabmeat.

Cheap thrills: delectably crisp empanadas, one filled with truffled mushrooms and cheese, the other holding the equivalent of a Cuban sandwich filling, each less than $3. A duo of sausages (merguez and chorizo) over onion escabèche and cannellini beans works for me.

Hooray for dark (not white) meat chicken that's marinated, skewered and grilled -- moist and hauntingly smoky. A salmon and tuna tartare infused with spicy passion fruit aioli tastes both Asian and tropical and, curiously, goes well with the Pringles potato chips that surround it. Crisp-tender calamari (served with that same aioli) is irresistible.

Also very good: a dinner entree of braised short ribs and wild mushroom ragu over pappardelle. And a rock shrimp tempura wrap at lunch.

A luxurious version of flan makes for a happy ending.

FLUBS

A meatball sandwich on thick, dry Italian bread is overheated, dense, dull. As an entree, seafood paella is relatively small and unspectacular. I'm not a fan of the "drunken" crab cakes, fried skewered ovals with a spicy piña colada "shooter" dip. Mac 'n' cheese is short on the mac, which is cooked to near mush. And a strawberry and avocado mousse "shooter" is plain weird. And warm.

BOTTOM LINE

Order some wine or sangria, and let the party begin.

ESSENTIALS Lunch, Monday to Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.; happy hour, 4 to 6 p.m.; dinner, Monday to Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 5 to 11 p.m., closed Sunday. Accepts major credit cards. Not wheelchair accessible.

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