My favorite translation of the Italian word enoteca is "wine library." It conjures an accessible, occasionally erudite collection dedicated to education and enjoyment. By offering wines by the glass that complement the menu, Jefferson Street's new wine and tapas bar, Enoteca, fills a gap in Lexington's culinary experience.
For example, Soave, through no fault of its own, was once considered the Italian equivalent of Blue Nun. Now at Enoteca, however, for just $7 a glass, one can discover how delicious this Old World-style white wine from the Veneto region is. For the same price, you can experiment with Corbières, the lovely French red wine named for its appellation in the Languedoc.
These (and many other) wines, and the small plates to go with them, can be enjoyed in several distinct atmospheres at Enoteca, which occupies the space formerly home to Wingspan Gallery (and its occasional dinners).
There is the brightly lit bar bordered by stylish distressed brick, and a sitting room with "closed stacks" displaying dozens of wine bottles. That foyer abuts a tiny dark dining area around the corner from what I call the fireplace room. Last, a short hallway leads to a patio.
Although its name comes from Italian, the inspiration for Enoteca's food draws primarily from Spain. You will find exceptions, such as the briny fresh oysters from Virginia, served with a perfect French mignonette of red wine vinegar and minced shallots, or the "summer salad" that could be from anywhere. Among my favorite items are the gray Puy lentils from France, tiny little pops of earthy flavor tossed in a vinaigrette with tomatoes, dill, onions and Danish blue cheese.
The focus is definitely Spain. Two of the country's cool sheep cheeses, its famous ham, called jamón Serrano, buttery Marcona almonds, and olives marinated in rosemary and thyme complement items the kitchen whips up.
Enoteca emphasizes that its menu is seasonal, so I expect that a delicious autumnal soup soon will replace summer's cold and creamy golden gazpacho. Patatas bravas (roasted potatoes) are nice, with their simple aioli, and probably will be available year-round. A more substantial spud-based dish has a wedge of sweet tortilla Española (potato omelet), light on the salt and onion, and with a drizzle of mild piquillo pepper sauce.
More complicated and more interesting are the chorizo puffs, an intriguing combination of very sweet flaky pastry and very savory sausage; the accompanying mustard sauce is sweet and hot, somewhat mimicking the puffs' flavor profile.
Meatballs a la Madrileña (Madrid-style) are a spoon-tender combination of pork and beef. They also are a bargain: One order of six meatballs is $8. Its name comes from the use of Spanish wine in the tomato sauce. Typically, Madrileña has more aromatics and herbs than this one, but the understatement allows for a greater appreciation of the meat.
Wednesdays have been paella nights this summer; it's another bargain at three courses for $20, including soup or salad, and a small plate of the main course that, having a light hand with the saffron, resembled an arroz con pollo with mussels.
Then there is dessert.
That night, it was an airy flan seasoned with cardamom. On the regular menu, though, you will find exotic passionfruit gelée covering a thick white chocolate mousse served in a crème brûlée dish.
As seasons shift, I look forward to seeing how the menu keeps in sync and to the new wine pairings to meet the fall fare.
Like any good library, Enoteca is a source of learning and pleasure.
Enoteca Wine Bar + Tapas
Address: 191 Jefferson St.
Phone: (859) 687-0346
Hours: 4 p.m.-midnight Mon.-Sat, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun.
Other: Street parking. Credit cards accepted. Full bar. More than 20 wines available by the glass. All small dishes, $3-$12; prix fixe meals Wednesdays, $25. Offerings change seasonally.
Wendy Miller is a Lexington-based food and spirits writer and critic.