Monday, March 11, 2013

Vino Rosina

We found ourselves with a hankering for tasty food and interesting cocktails one February evening and that drew us to Vino Rosina, a wine bar/restaurant tucked into the side of the Bagby Building on the far northern edge of Harbor East.

I knew I wanted to start with a cocktail containing their amusingly-named "crotchless" vodka, an infusion made with Prairie organic vodka flavored with cerignola olives, pepperoncini, cocktail onions, lemon twists, and smoked ham hocks. Yes, ham hocks. It's supposed to taste like the dirtiest martini imaginable. The beverage I chose was the "Smoke house," which is made with a spicier version of the infusion (called "Fire Crotch," sadly making me think of Lindsay Lohan) blended with kummel, tomato, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, and liquid smoke. I thought it might taste like a supremely fancy bloody mary, but with the prominent smoke, pork, and caraway flavors, it was not unlike drinking a liquified ham sandwich.

Mr Minx is a sucker for a Manhattan and went for the "Rabbit hattan" which included their carrot- and cinnamon-infused bourbon, punt e mes vermouth, orange bitters, and a lemon twist. Despite the carrot-cake-like flavors in the bourbon, the drink was less-sweet than the usual Manhattan and even somewhat savory (our server admitted that there was pork in the bourbon, too) with a strong hit of citrus.

The food menu offered as many interesting selections as the booze list, and we really wanted to try one of each. Instead, we settled on a handful of the items that interested us most, starting with a bowl of brussels sprouts topped with a Thai-style sweet chili sauce. Mr Minx was surprised at the sweetness, but I thought the sweet and the heat balanced nicely with the cabbagy flavors of the tender-crisp sprouts.

Brussels sprouts, Thai sweet chile sauce
We also tried one of the evening's specials, veal sweetbreads. These were battered and fried like chicken and served with a herby, garlicky, green goddess dressing. These were really nicely done, well-cleaned, tender morsels with a nice crunchy outside. We could have eaten far more of these beauties.

Southern fried veal sweetbreads with green goddess dressing
We hemmed and hawed between the intriguing-sounding beef tartare dressed down à la a very famous fast food burger and the charcuterie platter and opted for the latter. While everything on it was generally pretty tasty, it was the disappointment of the meal. The chicken liver mousse was very muted, tasting mostly of cream, and the pork rillettes were not particularly porky, but the texture of each was very nice. The pickled radishes, cauliflower, and carrots were one-dimensionally sour and the house-made whole-grain mustard was bitter. But the Surryano ham, a dried and smoked ham produced in Surry, Virgina, was delicious. Also a problem were the crostini, which had been made with a slender baguette that was full of air holes, leaving a mere skeleton of bread on which to spread the potted meats. Our server brought us some untoasted bread to use instead, but as it was made from the same airy baguette, it suffered from the same issue. C'est la vie. We made do and ate it all anyway. 

Charcuterie platter with pork rillettes, chicken liver
mousse, and Surryano ham
As a break from all the meatiness, we had the kale Caesar salad. It had all the flavors of a traditional Caesar, with the rough crunch of raw kale. We rather liked it. The gigantic sardine with it was rife with hard bones, which made it a bit awkward to eat.

Kale Caesar, rye croutons, crispy sardine
While everything we tried prior to our final savory course was pretty tasty, the dish with the most flavor impact was the flatbread topped with smoky guanciale (pork jowl bacon), lightly sweet pickled fried onions, and a gooey egg on a perfect thin and chewy crust. I would eat this for breakfast (and lunch and dinner) at least once a week if I had the chance. Maybe more often. It had the perfect combination of tastes and textures - smoky/sweet/rich/crisp.

Flatbread with guanciale, pickled onions, sunny-side-up egg
I was hoping bacon ice cream would be on offer for dessert, but alas, it was not to be. Mr Minx goes ga-ga over anything that has the words "red velvet" in the description, so we had to try the red velvet hot fudge sundae. The hot fudge was thick and appropriately fudgy but also somewhat savory (and I would not be surprised if it were made with pork fat instead of butter), and the bourbon ice cream was - wow! bourbon-y! But the crunchy cake layer was meh. It should have been either softer like cake or crunchy like a cookie, but instead it was in between, like the edge of a muffin top. Tasted ok, but just ok. Lose the cake, add toasted pecans and bacon, sweeten up the chocolate sauce and it would be fab. A completely different dessert, but fab.

Red Velvet hot fudge sundae
Vino Rosina is one of those places that seems to be doing the "in" thing these days. With the exposed brick, pale woods, and lots of black, visually it could be part of a chain that includes Birroteca and the Food Market, two newer and very popular restaurants that also offer interesting plates for sharing and fun cocktails. Honestly, this is exactly how I like to eat - my fickle palate loves being able to taste 5 or more dishes in the course of a meal - so VR is right up my culinary alley.

Vino Rosina
507 S. Exeter St
Baltimore, MD 21202
(410) 528-8600

Vino Rosina on Urbanspoon
Posted on Minxeats.com.
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