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Inspired by his Tuscan family roots, actor and transplanted Frenchman Mathew Cape partnered with a good friend to open Vinolio in Hollywood's burgeoning Cahuenga Corridor last fall. Offering rustic, quality comfort dishes and a convivial atmosphere with affordable prices, Vinolio is one of the over 200 restaurants participating in dineLA 2010's winter Restaurant Week. Just a few days before the promotion launched, LAist was invited to stop by to preview the dineLA lunch menu and to get to know Vinolio.
Chef Jack Ourfalian--who arrived at lunchtime fresh from a trip to the market--and the owners decided to cull from their current menu for their dineLA options in order to showcase some of the restaurant's calling card dishes. While we discussed our options we indulged in some bread with olives and some wonderfully light and savory fried calamari, and drank in the interior, which Cape and partner Nick Nahas worked hard to create, from the oxidized tin ceiling to the tables which they crafted themselves, and the quirky painted-over paintings done by a friend. The room, we were told, is also brought to life three nights a week when a live jazz band sets up and entertains diners and bar patrons.
During lunchtime, however, Vinolio is quiet, most likely because they've only just begun to serve up a midday meal (11:30-2:30) as of last week. With chiefly the owners and a bartender serving as staff and few customers to dote on the day of our visit, it's hard to ascertain from our experience if their level of service can appease hungry masses in need of a quick lunch, or if the rush of dinnertime service is manageable. The food, however, takes center stage here, and hopefully in time they will find their balance.
Of the choices available on their dineLA lunch menu we chose the Fava Beans and Pecorino Cheese Crostini with Walnut and the Bruschetta with Heirloom Tomato, Basil and Garlic. Cape explained that the fava bean dish was a childhood favorite of his, and a real homage to his mother and her Tuscan heritage. The vibrant green fava beans are taut and lightly dressed in oil and dotted with bits of robust cheese and earthy walnuts, and work well either piled high on a piece of toasted bread or just scooped up by the spoonful. The bruschetta was intensely garlic-y (a plus for some palates, indeed) and the use of Heirloom tomatoes gives depth where a more straightforward plain red tomato cannot shine; this dish will surely sing to its full range when Heirloom tomatoes come into season in late summer.
For lunch we indulged in tastes of all three of their options, since Vinolio was proud to showcase their pizza, deli meats and cheeses, and their standout sandwich. First, the pizza--a simple Margherita with tomato, fresh mozzarella and basil. Cape explained that they tried multiple crust recipes before settling on the current one, which uses ingredients imported from Napoli in order to best exemplify the balance of crunch and chewiness. It is a golden-brown crust with bite and just enough grit and moisture in balance with each other and the cheese and tomato topping.
We sampled their trio of mini crostini sandwiches, each one a thoughtful pairing of high-quality cured meats with cheeses, greens and spread. The small sandwiches are paired with fried zucchini sticks that have a wonderful crumbly coating and a remarkably clean fried taste that is unusual for breaded bits that bathe in deep fryers. But it was a full-size sandwich here that stole the show, and will make a stop at Vinolio worthwhile.
Their Egg Bolognese Sandwich is a masterpiece of flavor and richness that is not to be missed. Hearty bolognese sauce, rich with creaminess and spice is topped with portabella mushrooms, melted provolone cheese, crispy pieces of salty pancetta and one beautifully cooked sunny-side-up egg. Slicing through the sandwich lets the semi-firm yolk ooze perfectly, and each bite yields a stellar balance of the assertive heft of the sauce, the earthiness of the mushrooms, the tang of the cheese and the, well, straight up eggy-ness of the egg. Paired with this Italian-inspired Sloppy Joe sandwich are fries stacked like Lincoln Logs, again displaying an unusual "clean" fry taste--not oily, not murky, which Chef Ourfalian attributes to his use of Cottonseed oil and separate fryers for protein and veg.
For dessert we went with the housemade panna cotta, its shimmering, quivering coolness nesting in a pool of blubbery sauce. Dotting the top are fresh specs of vanilla bean, and off to the side (and not to be overshadowed) was a delectable profiterole with a mildly sweet and creamy filling and a rich chocolate glaze.
Vinolio is a restaurant that espouses the concept of a friendly neighborhood joint, they may find its a tough sell in a part of town known less for community and more for nightclubs and tourists. However, they could use their distinction to their advantage, since few places in the immediate area seem aimed at drawing in repeat customers who like food and drink without pretense. For dineLA, their $16 lunch and $26 dinner are affordable introductions to Vinolio's food. Give it a try if only for the Egg Bolognese Sandwich.
1634 N. Cahuenga Blvd, Hollywood
Lunch 11:30-2:30 M-F, Dinner 6:00 M-Sat; Live Jazz W, F, & Sat nights
dineLA: Lunch $16; Dinner $26