What does dining at the new Eno Vino Downtown have in common with seeing the musical “Hamilton”?
People feel moved by the experience and feel the need to take a photo and share it on social media. It’s that special.
With Eno Vino, on the top two floors of the new, 10-story AC Hotel one block east of the Capitol Square, the big fuss is over the floor-to-ceiling windows that offer stunning views of the Capitol, both lakes and the Downtown.
The restaurant offers new perspectives of the city, and, during our visit, the food, drinks, service and general ambiance matched the stellar views.
The menu is similar in concept to the 12-year-old Eno Vino on the Far West Side, but the two restaurants only share a handful of dishes. Eno Vino Downtown, which opened May 8, features an upscale selection of tapas-style, small plates heavy on seafood and meat, with a few salad and vegetarian options, flatbreads, bruschetta, and mix-and-match cheese and meat boards.
A friend was discouraged that there wasn’t more for him on the menu when so many restaurants are making gluten-free accommodations.
“I feel like I could go to any gastropub and find more gluten-free food, so this is strange in this day and age,” he said, pointing out that a few dishes on the menu could be made gluten free with some simple tweaks. When he asked our server if those changes could be made in the kitchen, we were told they could not.
For instance, the poke poke could become gluten free with a different soy sauce and by omitting the wonton.
The raw tuna dish arrived at our table by accident, making me wish I had ordered it. Later, another plate was brought to our table by mistake. Those were two minor glitches in what was otherwise superb service. Our waiter, who only brought out a small portion of our dishes, once worked at the West Side Eno Vino.
In the end, my gluten-free friend, a self-professed “cheese nut,” was happy with a cheese board ($24 for a choice of five cheeses) served with an apricot chili jam, an olive tapenade, red and green grapes, and slices of crusty bread. He ordered the cheeses with finocchiona, fennel salami, for an extra $6. His only complaint was that the cheeses were chilled and he would have preferred them at room temperature or at least served on a warm plate.
He also delighted in his three seared scallops ($30), which given the price tag, was meal-sized and seemed more substantial than the typical small plate. Chipotle creamed corn; chistorra, a Basque-style, mildly-spicy cured sausage; and cipollini onions were great additions to the three plump scallops.
The annatto pork tacos ($13) were five small, beautiful-looking hard-shell tacos in a metal holder. Green and red salsas were drizzled over the top, adding to the beauty. In the end, they appealed to the two gluten-eating friends at my table more than me.
A generous heirloom tomato salad ($12) benefited from big wedges of tomato, fresh-tasting burrata, micro basil and a fantastic balsamic vinaigrette.
The chicken lollipops ($12) were two meaty, lightly-breaded chicken legs served with an amazing melange of sautéed shiitake mushrooms, carrots, onions and jalapenos. A cheese sauce on the side was fantastic, but not necessary.
My favorite dish was the pork belly BLT ($14), which is likely the most gourmet BLT ever devised. It started with ciabatta toast and was layered with lemon aioli, tomato, frisée, a huge slab of flavorful pork belly and a sunny-side-up egg on top. A friend called it a “destination menu item.”
Eno Vino’s wall of wine, which customers pass when they walk into the restaurant, is also impressive. Eno Vino Downtown, which defines itself first as a wine bar, offers 44 wines by the glass and another 365 in bottles — I guess so you can try a different wine each day of the year.
One friend had three glasses of the French cote mas sparkling rosé ($11), which he called “refreshing and fun on a hot evening.” Another had a cocktail called “Bourbon Gets Better with Thyme” and found it too sweet. Meanwhile, I savored a Limoncello Collins ($9) made with gin, lemon juice, lemongrass, kumquat syrup and seltzer. It was the ideal summer drink.
For dessert, we split a vanilla bean crème brûlée ($8) with raspberry jam and a chunk of brownie buried within. It also had a gorgeous, sliced strawberry on top. The various flavors added a nice twist to a traditional dessert.
Women shouldn’t leave the restaurant without visiting the washroom, where large windows provide for wide views. The men’s room is built into the interior and therefore guys have no such luck.
Eno Vino partner Jose Luis Granados noted that he and his partners recently added couches to the ladies room because of “high demand.” Apparently, women have decided to camp out there. I guess that makes sense if they bring their wine glasses in.
He also addressed the gluten-free issue, saying the restaurant is working on a gluten-free menu, and should have it ready in the coming days. They will modify current menu items and are trying to bring in a gluten-free pizza dough, since the demand for GF pizza is great, Granados said.
No one should leave Eno Vino without stopping in the lounge area, which offers a different set of views, or on the outdoor patio on the 9th floor for a panoramic effect.
People often want a restaurant recommendation before a show at the Overture Center or Orpheum Theater, and Eno Vino fits the bill nicely.
Just go early, because you can’t hurry a good photo shoot.