A Hyde Park classic has another new look. After six months of hard work, neighborhood favorite Vino Vino is debuting some major changes, including a revamped bar and dining room, a cozy new wine garden, and a new chef.
The biggest news is the addition of executive chef Ben Schwartz, who, according to a release, joined the team in May. The restaurant/wine bar has been without an executive chef since former Apis chef Adam Brick left in December to begin work on his all-day concept, Marina’s.
Schwartz is well known in Austin for his work at Uchi, Texas French Bread, and Le Politique, as well as winning Austin cooking competition Citywide 86’d. Using seasonal and local produce, Schwartz has upgraded the menu without sacrificing approachability.
Many of his dishes bring a new lightness to the menu, like a sweet corn gazpacho with white peach basil, and spicy popcorn; fresh crudo with shishito peppers, seaweed, and blueberries; and a pavlova with crispy meringue, summer fruit, cream, and rosé gelatin. Heartier eaters will gravitate to the pork belly with Vietnamese slaw, lime, peanuts, and chili oil and the hanger steak with smoky eggplant, long beans, and brown butter.
Fans of Vino Vino’s former menu shouldn’t worry, however. The menu still includes a beefy burger on a challah bun, french fries with aioli, and a killer selection of cheeses for custom boards.
The beverage program has also been jazzed up. Instead of relying on a single sommelier, Vino Vino proprietor Kelly Bell tells CultureMap that five wine pros are on staff. The inspiration behind a team approach is to keep the wine list energized by a variety of different palates. The pros will frequently remix varietals, producers, and regions while keeping quality and value in mind.
On the cocktail side, Vino Vino has doubled its spirits collection to give the bar more flexibility. Like the wine list, the drinks menu will regularly rotate. It currently is split between classics like daiquiris, Sazeracs, and Boulevardiers and house creations like Death by Espadín, made with mezcal, a house ginger-habañero drinking vinegar, and lime.
All the new menu items will be showcased in Vino Vino’s new digs. Kelly has divided the long dining room into two distinct areas divided by heavy velvet curtains. The front bar area keeps much of the original decor, but adds clusters of Edison bulbs for an intimate feel. The back dining room has undergone a much more dramatic transformation with wraparound upholstered banquettes and crystal chandeliers, giving the space a sense of formality.
In the back, the restaurant has also built a bright and cheery patio as a counterpoint to the clubby dining areas. Shaded by a large tree, the small space is decorated simply with string lights, red pillows, and trailing plants.
To celebrate their makeover, Vino Vino has upped the ante on their happy hour. Guests can check out the transformation daily from 5-7 pm, when craft cocktails, spirits, beer, and snacks are half off and by-the-glass wines are discounted $2.