There exists a triumvirate that operates a laudable slice of the Springs' culinary cutting edge. Proprietor Dave Brackett, chef/co-owner Jay Gust and mixologist Ken Walker oversee Pizzeria Rustica and TAPAteria. This team's newest effort, an expansion above Pizzeria Rustica, takes fresh and fancy eating in a new direction.
Ostensibly, Enoteca Rustica is a special events venue, a waiting spot for the pizzeria below, a spot for appetizers and apéritifs before dinner, and the place where Brackett, Gust and Walker keep fun and funky wines, with select bottles going for $20 between open and 6 p.m. as happy hour. Enoteca translates from Italian to "wine repository" or "wine library," after all. But beyond the sizable wine selection, Walker and Gust have a few secrets. A cabinet behind the bar hides a mini smoker, and there's an immersion circulator for sous vide cooking tucked away in back. Diners expect orthodoxy, but it's all too easy to tap into the mad science that elevates this place.
First, though, the food. A few appetizers and a small selection of pizzas (still in the $10 to $14 range) can make their way up from the pizzeria below. Their salumi pizza lets house mozzarella, crushed tomatoes and thin Neapolitan crust play well with the fats and spices from fennel and sopressata salumis. But the insalata cesare, the humble Caesar salad, deserves praise for including salty bits of prosciutto and, for a well-worth-it extra two bucks, white anchovies. The light salt and intense savory punch these little fish add makes this classic a wicked-tasty option.
It would be easy to go on about the crossover dishes — the beautiful toppings on the crostini, the Italian take on TAPAteria's jamon-wrapped dates, the olives and spiced hazelnuts as a perfect bar nibble, or the ever-fresh insalata caprese. But the charcuterie plate shows where Enoteca stands on its own. Two kinds of salumi — one peppered, one not — pair meritoriously with a sweet-savory peppadew havarti or balsamic-marinated garlic and mushrooms.
Enoteca offers two carpaccio dishes, both $8.50. The more traditional option sees paper-thin bresaola (salt-cured beef) brightened with caper berries, lemon zest and horseradish truffle olive oil. Intense beef flavor needs that salt, citrus and oil goodness to shine as beautifully as this dish does. A little more challenging, the octopus carpaccio tastes unashamedly of the sea, with mild pepper as the big secondary note. With big, lemony gigande beans and baby peppadew peppers, it's a white wine's best friend.
If dessert seems mandatory, the budino tops a Jell-O grade, chocolate-chip-studded butterscotch pudding with crunchy and delicious bits of rosemary caramel for a disjointed blend of child's lunch and high cuisine. A sfogliatine panini finds pastry of the crispy crumbly sort attempting to sandwich a Nutella-ricotta filling. They're dull-but-workable spots on a menu that has otherwise been polished to a mirror finish.
Liquid desserts are the order of the day here. Walker brews house ginger ale with ever-changing additions. The lemongrass-vanilla ginger ale, in bottle when we visited, has a strong ginger flavor, but not too much heat, paired and balanced but not overwhelmed by the other elements. It's good and important to see non-alcoholic drinks treated with the same care and craft as booze, and despite the wine in the name, this makes Enoteca a viable night out option for non-drinkers too.
But for those who do partake, the Enoteca bar is a wonderland. On-menu, a martini arrabiata ($9 — par for the course) sees a fiery house-infused pepper vodka — diluted from an original batch that caused an employee to cry — mellowed with Lillet and muddled baby peppadews. A little sweet and a little heat make for a fun drink. Or just try a negroni, bittersweet and lovely as expected. Beer lovers can skip the Peroni and Moretti for Italian brewer Le Baladin's remarkable Nora. We guessed the honey-rich brew contained flavors ranging from cardamom to pepper to galangal and sumac, but it's actually made with ginger, orange peel and myrrh. Whatever — $9 may be steep for this small bottle, but it's well worth the cost.
But when Gust recognized and introduced me to Walker, I learned what the bar really had to offer. My dining companion tried, on recommendation, a cocktail of Cocchi vermouth, soda water and orange — a little bitter, but light and fascinating. Next came taste pours of Smooth Ambler's Contradiction whiskey, which drinks like the easy-drinking brood of scotch and rye. Then, as my companion remembered a smoked whiskey cocktail he'd been served at a previous visit, Walker pulled out kiwi berries cooked sous vide in Ketel One citroen and served them in prosecco and the cooking liquid.
And that's the truth of Enoteca: The classics get all due love, but this loft is the treehouse where madmen play. Given the chance to get as absurd as the above kiwi berry concoction, they will. If it's not hard-traditional, they'll smoke it, sous vide it, soak it in imported spirits, pair it with uncommon veg, and make it into a bite or drink you'll never forget.