All of the staff at Uvaggio Wine Bar & Restaurant are trained sommeliers. But this isn't to say they're snobbish when it comes to vino —- quite the opposite in fact. To show they don't take themselves too seriously, the wine list is broken down by categories such as "you zesty thing!", "light and sassy," and "the heavyweight division," And underneath the headings there are descriptions, so for instance "the heavyweight division" wines are described as "wines that are full bodied or extremely age-able and not scared to chew on your ear or face." You can immediately tell these are sommeliers that won't laugh in your face if you inquire about the difference between a Bordeaux and a Burgundy.
Located on Miracle Mile in Coral Gables, Uvaggio debuted a year and a half ago and earned the New Times Best Wine Bar 2014 award. Owner Craig DeWald worked at American Express for 25 years before deciding to follow his nose and open an intimate, neighborhood spot where he could share his favorite wines with friends and patrons. To this day, he says Italian wines hold a special place in his heart.
This past June, Tanner Gill joined the Uvaggio team as head chef, and the Abilene, Texas, native has added some Southern touches to the restaurant's menu. According to DeWald, chef Gill came into the wine bar as a customer and enjoyed his experience so much he asked if he could volunteer in the kitchen a couple of times a week. A graduate of the Texas Culinary Academy, Gill was later promoted to sous chef and eventually took over the job as top toque when the executive chef left.
Here, the menu is developed via a process DeWald refers to as "tasting backward." Together with head wine-o/managing partner, Heath Porter, they taste various wines and then work with chef Gill to create food items that will compliment their flavor profiles. All of the wines are very "food friendly," explains DeWald, and, as a result, you won't find many heavy wines that don't pair as seamlessly with cookery.
New Times was invited recently to taste Uvaggio's new winter menu as prepared by chef Gill. It was a Tuesday which is blues night at the spot. Mondays and Wednesday are reserved for live jazz and there are wine tastings every Saturday at 5 p.m., as well as happy hour specials Monday through Saturday. Here are some of the dishes we tried:
We started with a salad of citrus zest goat cheese, heirloom tomatoes, local strawberries, avocado, endives and pickled red onions ($12). Goat cheese and strawberries are always a solid pairing, and the acidity of the lemon zest combined with the pickled onions kicked this starter up a notch. What's more, there are croutons fried in bacon fat thrown in for good measure. As for wine, DeWald suggested a sauvignon blanc in order to bring out the citrus notes in the cheese, and he was right on point.
At Uvaggio there's always a gnocchi on the menu, however, the dish changes according to the season. For winter, chef Gill has prepared handmade gnocchi ($17) served with roasted wild mushrooms, pumpkin seeds, an arugula pesto, a raspberry purée, and some truffle oil. The potato pasta is cooked in plenty of butter giving the puffs a toasty flavor that's utterly irresistible. Dip them into the raspberry purée for an extra burst of vibrancy. This is pasta for the soul and it's no surprise it's the restaurant's bestseller. Our sommelier teamed it with a light Barbera wine.
The pork cheeks are cooked sous vide for 48 hours and arrive with a cauliflower soubise, oven-roasted carrots, leeks, and Cipollini onions.
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Juicy pork and crunchy root vegetables make for a dish that screams winter. Other items on Uvaggio's menu include salmon gravlax, cheese and charcuterie plates, and octopus. Come here for some live music and tasty food and, of course, wine. Just do yourself a favor and ask one of the friendly sommeliers for help. Trust us, you'll learn a lot.