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Vinum Populi simplifies swank, promotes sips on Powers 

click to enlarge Nab some bucatini with a glass of Chianti. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Nab some bucatini with a glass of Chianti.
Like Wobbly Olive before it, Vinum Populi improves the Powers Boulevard corridor as it elevates the dining/drinking experience above its corporate surroundings. That said, owner Miguel Garza was the first to tell us, during a July interview, that what he’s up to isn’t “super-fancy food,” but “European peasant food.”

Garza’s a sommelier and restaurateur with a hand in Los Angeles-area concepts, recently returned to town for family. (Apparently we graduated in the same class at Colorado College, though I don’t recall crossing paths.) What he’s done here indeed strikes the “unpretentious” atmosphere promised, and that’s partly due to decor as eclectic as the 30-plus wine offerings by the ounce, half or full glass. Guests serve themselves from two fancy wine preservation/pouring systems that greet them upon entry.

Burgundy walls scream “wine bar” in a self-aware way, like wearing a band T-shirt to the concert, and everything from hanging Edison bulbs to multiple TVs playing vintage sitcoms, mid-century modern couches, glass low tables, a high community table, graffiti artworks by FuseOne AWR, and stark white subway tile leading from a glossy wooden bar top makes Vinum a lot to take in. An open kitchen, a wide view across to Kum & Go (I’d consider curtains) and airy dining room also distance wine drinking here from its typical intimacy. Which isn’t to say there’s no fun to be had sampling sips of more wines than you’d typically try (à la what Trails End Taproom offers beer drinkers).
Location Details Vinum Populi
6165 Barnes Road, Suite 170
Powers
Colorado Springs, CO
Breweries/Wineries/Distilleries

I won’t belabor tasting notes here (descriptors are posted above each wine and prices range from cheap to $97 for a glass of 1970 Rioja), as we sampled eight different wine ounces between our visits, not finding a bad one. Both a Russian Rkatsiteli and Bulgarian blend offered new-to-us terroir. A chocolatey South African Pinotage stole the show, and several Italian varietals paired easiest with the small-plate menu’s charcuterie, cheeses, pizza and pasta, plus other random items. We also tested spirits, relishing a potent Mezcal Margarita and wanting better execution of a $13 Old Fashioned with Chicago’s Koval whiskey, that was both boozy yet overly watery from excessive small ice.

No complaints though on a greatly garlicky Cesar Chavez Salad and burrata plated like a caprese, with the milky, chewy mozzarella bits layered between juicy plum tomato slices, with basil garnish. Plus those offer more sustenance and value at $8 and $9, respectively, than a $9 Crostini España that’s two toast points under thin-sliced Iberico ham and manchego cheese, with a fried quail egg. (Remember, “peasant food.”) We’re fond of a simple side of duck fat-fried potatoes, also with manchego, and carrot-fennel purée beautifully complements a trio of gooey, char-kissed scallops (a menu-topping $18).

We want to like our Alto Adige pizza more considering its gourmet list that includes Grana Padano cheese, speck (prosciutto) and black truffle paste, but our pie’s a bit burnt on the bottom, while overly blond elsewhere; it is imperfect past individual ingredient notes. A Bucatini Carbonara wants only for a bit more black pepper, with its spaghetti-like noodles coated in Parmigiano and Pecorino Romano, flecked with fabulous fatty guanciale (pork cheek) bits. Pair it with a Chianti Reserva for a strong acid offset that completes the dish.

Finish with an ideal chocolate mousse bearing chocolate-covered bacon pieces for another hearty piggy party. It’s a fine note on which to depart, well-wined and lightly dined, feeling pretty rich for a peasant.

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