Wine bar, Small plates, Tapas (small plates)
Vinoco Wine Bar & Tapas Restaurant opened in April in the Mineola storefront that used to house Mi Ranchito. On a recent evening, the place virtually pulsated. Clearly, the concept of small plates and wines (by the bottle or glass) is going over big time in Mineola.
Co-owner Carlos Roman and Alex Meza used to be waiters in Manhattan -- Roman at Bolo and Meza at Bouley. The two teamed up with chef de cuisine Alberto Vega (formerly of Bistro du Vent, also in the city) to come up with an imaginative assortment of global small plates, augmented by a few entrees. Sharing is encouraged.
I can vouch for a delectable artichoke salad with mushrooms and avocado in a lemon-olive oil dressing ($11). Steamed Asian buns held pork belly, hoisin sauce, cilantro and pickled daikon. Just lovely. Another treat: a flatbread topped with chorizo and mozzarella. And meatballs in tomato sauce. Three small plates go for $25.
Less of a value was an entree of seafood paella ($18.75), a relatively small bowl of mixed shellfish over saffron rice. Braised short ribs with a wild mushroom ragu over fresh pappardelle ($17.50), though, was irresistible.
To finish: opulent and creamy flan.
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But enough with the name dropping. What matters is what they're doing in Mineola: serving up an intriguing repertoire of global small plates.
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.
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.
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.