Pour me a glass of Barbera or uncork a bottle of Tocai Friulano and I’m one happy woman. Bring me bruschetta or a plate of antipasto to nibble with these Italian wines and my state elevates to blissful. That’s why Grotto , the recently opened wine bar on Shaker Square, is my kind of place. The list, dominated by Italian reds and whites, offers a handpicked selection of appellations, styles, and labels from the old world and the new. The kitchen turns out a really appealing line-up of small Mediterranean accented plates that lend themselves to snacking while sipping. Better yet, you get all this in casual, comfortable setting without any fine dining formality or the need to eat a lot and spend big.
Right now, there are 26 wines by the glass. I hope they expand that number to encourage more experimentation and exploration of their “cellar”- a glass walled room behind the bar. On the food side there are sliders, salads, soups, four out-of-the-ordinary pizzas, medium-sized portions of pasta, and few hearty meat-centric house plates.
Some food and wine pairings I tried and enjoyed: Polpette, unusually light and tasty meatballs with a bright, supple 2005 Barbaresco from Cantina Del Pino; grilled prawns and radicchio slaw and a chalky Lion’s Peak Marsanne; gnocchi with lobster and rigatoni with rapini partnered by Leonetti’s Rose Bardolino, bone dry and full-bodied. And for an after-dinner or end of the night option, I recommend the housemade tiramsu with sparkling Braccheto d’Aqui.
The floor to ceiling makeover of the space, once a woman’s clothing boutique, is astonishing. Liberal use of stenciled stucco, stone, and brickwork create a charming Euro-past look, reinforced with columns and arches that suggest Roman aqueducts. The wine collection is stored in a glass “cellar” behind the bar makes for a dramatic centerpiece. The main space is open and sociable but there are also smaller, cozier more intimate spots to sit. The patio is literally right out on the Square and I’m really looking forward to nabbing a table there as soon as the weather gets warm.