FOOD- THE DISH- Sideways on the Mall: VAvino becomes enoteca

Megan Headley and co-manager Marisa Catalano will take you to Italy via enoteca, the Mall's new Italian wine bar.

For several years now, Virginia oenophiles on the Mall have been able to satisfy their cravings at VAvino, as the cork-filled windows testified. Even when a 2005 federal ruling prohibited Virginia winemakers from self-distributing, throwing something of a wrench into VAvino's initial concept, the wine continued to flow as owner Michael Shaps began offering an array of international selections.

However, as many a restaurateur is wont to do when the man comes knocking, Shaps sold VAvino to restaurant collector Coran Capshaw, who continued to fill the windows with corks while he contemplated a new concept for the space. As it turns out, the new concept didn't fall far from the vine.

"I fell in love with the wine bars of Florence when I went to school there," says Megan Headley, who ran VAvino for Capshaw and helped re-conceive it as enoteca, an Italian-centric wine bar scheduled to open the first week of June. "That's one thing we really didn't have in town."

Although Headley and co-manager Marisa Catalano didn't know each other when they moved to Charlottesville last year, the two women quickly realized they had led parallel lives when they began teaming up to teach cooking classes at the Seasonal Cook. Both women are graduates of the Institute of Culinary Education in New York, both did time in the New York restaurant world, share a love of Italian wine, food and culture, and fell in love with Charlottesville.

"I went to school at UVA," says Headley. "and I've always felt that Charlottesville was a very sophisticated place when it came to food and wine." 

With 40-plus wines by the glass, highlighting the best of Italy's 20 wine-growing regions, enoteca (yeah, they like that lower-case spelling) will be a veritable Italian vacation on the Mall. In addition, Headley says the two plan to serve up the traditional foods served in the enoteche of Italy, including bruschetta, regional cheeses and meats, panini, and seasonal dishes like sun-ripened tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and sweet basil this summer, and fresh figs paired with peppery baby arugula and silky prosciutto di Parma come fall. 

As Headley points out, the emphasis will be on fresh produce, as there is not a full kitchen at enoteca. "Our goal is to turn out amazing food with very little equipment," she says. 

Headley also hopes that non-oenophiles will be able to "get an education and explore wines in an unintimidating atmosphere." To that end, she says well-trained and educated staff will be on hand to help patrons learn which cheese goes with that Chanti and what characterizes the regions of each wine.

Of course, there's one downside to all this. With so many international restaurants on the Mall these days, it hardly makes sense to travel.

Bazaar feast fundraiser

Matteus Frankovich at the Tea Bazaar on the Mall tell Dish that he plans to hold a series of Mediterranean Feast brunches featuring authentic foods from the regions of Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon prepared in the classic mezza style, which is a mix of cold and hot offerings. 

The brunches, which will be held at the Tea Bazaar on June 3 and 1o at 1pm, are part of a fundraising effort for their cook and kitchen manager, Rick Easton, who's planning a six-week trip to the region to "talk with locals about their cuisine, visit markets, and experience traditional street food in its full glory"– and, we hope, also to bring all that tasty knowledge home!

The price is $20/person and space is limited, says Frankovich, so sign up at the Tea Bazaar pronto, or call Rick Easton at 434-825-7471. 

California dreamin' at the Clifton Inn

It appears the Clifton Inn is also working the oenophile crowd. On May 29, the renowned Inn held the first of its two scheduled spring wine dinners, featuring a selection of Spanish wines. On June 26, the Inn sets its sights on California vintages, including hors d'oeuvres, a five-course meal, and a "comfortable and conversational" approach to wine education.  

"Too often people feel that a wine evening like this might be over their heads," says Clifton Inn manager J.F. Legault.  "Our approach is exactly the opposite. It's a no-pressure environment where the focus is on mutual discovery much more than it is about lecturing."

"As a chef and as wine buff, the journey you take by tasting and educating your palate through wine is incredible," says executive chef Dean Maupin, who works closely with Clifton's Farid Lebbar to plan the evenings. "I tend to keep the food very simple on these evenings and let the wine take center stage."

Hmm... sounds oenophilatic!