In Wine There Is Truth

A house alone is not a home, according to the saying. For that transformation to happen, a building needs life. And for the same reason, neither is Miami's "square mile of style" (a nickname from the Seventies) a neighborhood. Revival efforts over the last decade have made the Design District a swell place, during weekday work hours, to pick up a $1400 bathroom faucet. And during the past year or so, the District has developed into a part-time nocturnal destination, thanks to occasional gallery nights, the opening of a few clubs, and the institution of Thursday-through-Saturday evening hours by several formerly lunch-only eateries.

All of the above has made the Design District a proverbially nice place to visit but still somewhere you wouldn't want to live. Real 24/7 urban walking neighborhoods need, among other amenities, real neighborhood restaurants. This means places where area residents can eat if, by some chance, they happen to feel hungry Monday through Wednesday nights. It means prices reasonable enough that dropping by for a bite and a drink can be an everyday thing, not just a special occasion. And it means not another resto-lounge that's mainly a see-and-be-seen scene but a casually comfortable eatery where the welcome is warm and personal at any hour you arrive -- and in any attire, be it a business suit or a sweatsuit.

D'Vine District is such a place -- and more. D'Vine is the vine; the eatery, opened with little fanfare three months ago, is also a retail wine shop. It's an excellent one too, owing to the savvy of owner Florent Blanchet, a young Frenchman who worked for several liquor distribution companies after moving to Miami five years ago. For the booming Biscayne Boulevard corridor's new residents, this means running out to buy a bottle of wine for dinner is no longer limited to half-gallons of Walgreens plonk. Blanchet's hip inventory includes not only many Montrachets and the like for special occasions but also more than ample selections in the everyday $10 to $15 range, most not supermarket stuff -- sturdy, quality vino rather than your Yellowtail. In fact he'll even go as far as special-ordering you any wine available in Florida.

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3622 NE 2nd Ave, Miami; 305-576-7775. Open for lunch Monday through Saturday 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., dinner Monday through Saturday 5:00 to 10:00 p.m.

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If you eat in, bottles are priced at only $12 above their retail value. And the food is as enjoyable as the wine. It's mostly simple edibles like soups, sandwiches, and salads, but usually standard items have unique creative touches, like a gazpacho whose expected healthy freshness is given a touch of sin by a crme frache foam and ground almonds. A house field greens salad, dressed with subtly sweet balsamic/honey vinaigrette, is made fancy by a garnish of toasted walnuts and dried cranberries. A tabbouleh salad -- so often one-dimensionally spiced with little but lemon and parsley -- is a treasure box of full-flavored surprises, including savory roasted eggplant, sun-dried tomatoes, and peanuts.

Bits of rich bacon made a $3 cup of potato leek soup, a special, feel like a full lunch. And a shrimp club sandwich special was outstanding, thanks to correctly cooked shellfish, genuinely ripe tomatoes, and, in place of mayonnaise, an assertive red pepper aioli.

Actually all sandwiches are good bets here -- as are the desserts, like the sort of buttery, flaky, crisp apple tart you probably haven't enjoyed since your last trip to Paris -- for breads, and most pastries, are housemade. However, the sandwiches aren't on the menu at night, when the fare turns to tapas. But the good news is Blanchet's accommodating kitchen will be happy to whip up requests from the lunch menu, assuming the place isn't too packed to cope.

The bad news is D'Vine District will be exactly that packed once word gets out.

 
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