Chef Marco Wiles is practically synonymous with Houston’s Italian dining scene. No other chef has done more to bolster the city’s standing as a gourmet destination for that nation’s cuisine, though he does claim the distinct advantage of having grown up in a small Italian town. Vinoteca Poscol, Wiles’s third and latest venture, is named after a street in that town and ostensibly modeled after a neighborhood-style Venetian wine bar. The chef’s affection for his native land is apparent everywhere in the restaurant, from the focus on Italian varietals to the gondola oars set in place of traditional silverware. In keeping with his reputation for thoughtful, creative pairings, Wiles has crafted each small plate with a selection of fine wine in mind. Whether you opt for the butternut-squash risotto with chicken livers, the spicy prosciutto cotto for your selection of house-cured salumi, or a board of regional cheeses, your server can help you select a wine that complements the dish’s flavors and textures.
Although it was voted Best Coffeehouse in 2004, 2005, and 2006 by the Houston Press, the term "coffeehouse" doesn't begin to do Agora justice. Inside it's sociable, woody interior, guests imbibe a menu of Greek wines, beers, and teas––all while tapping their toes to tunes playing on the jukebox or filling the air with smoke rings from their favorite cigar. Patrons can also break off bits of fine chocolates to swirl into cups of Greek coffee, fork up Agora's famous baklava, and surf the waves of the world wide web courtesy of the shop's free wi-fi––an amenity for which the coffeehouse has also garnered an award.
A tiny island off the eastern shores of Spain, Ibiza lies at the intersection of Mediterranean cultures. This makes it an altogether proper namesake for Houston’s Ibiza, where chef Charles Clark has created a seasonal menu that reflects a confluence of Spanish, French, and Greek traditions. The Spanish influences are perhaps the most immediately noticeable, thanks to the wide variety of tapas customarily served before dinner. With offerings such as crispy pork belly, duck empanadas, and pan-fried oysters, it’s tempting to make these a main course in their own right. But then there’s the fish, which chef Clark has delivered twice daily and cooks in its own pan jus, and the lamb shank, which he braises for six full hours before serving. Thanks to the restaurant’s open kitchen, guests can stare unblinkingly at him and his team while they work.
The aromas of succulent small dishes waft through the air as corks pop from wine and champagne bottles inside Cha's modish lounge, whose edibles and atmosphere earned the title of Best Wine Bar 2010 from the Houston Press. Pungent cheeses, olives, honey, and nuts ($15) ferry their cargo of harmonious flavors into mouth harbors. Cool crème fraiche and tarragon mustard engage in salty conversation with passing capers as each secretly hopes for a slow dance with smoked salmon ($10). Groups of four daintily tear at the seams of a blanca flatbread pizza with white-truffle oil and fresh mozzarella, or breathe in the smoky perfume of the barbecue-duck flatbread. The chef ties up leisurely meals with two portions of the dessert of the moment. Though not included in this Groupon, guests are encouraged to heighten their dining experience with jewel-colored libations from an extensive list available by the glass ($9+) and bottle ($30+).
When thinking of a wine collection, minds often spring to dark, dank caverns filled to the brim with dusty bottles deep beneath the earth. At The Corkscrew, however, potential pours are on full display out in the open, their labels proudly peering out from the sprawling wine wall. While oenophiles sip on their glass of chosen wine, they can dig into a menu of tasty snacks, including paninis, thin-crust pizza, and cheese plates. Resident pianist Nick Greer takes the stage every Thursday through Saturday to sweeten nights out with the dulcet strains of his keyboard ministrations.
With its fantasy-furnishing fusion of bohemian and baroque decor, Absolve Wine Lounge cossets diners within an elegant dining environment. Sink into a plush velvet armchair and rest your feet on a thick oriental rug while the rustic glow of ornate candelabras to survey the extensive menu with magic-carpet levels of ease. Diners can immerse tongues in the Absolve cheese experience with three cheese choices from a lineup including cambozola, manchego, raspberry bellavitano, roquefort, and more ($16). Prove the old adage that misery loves company almost as much as hunger loves meatballs with the Italian Stallion panini, stuffed with spiced meat spheres and mushrooms ($8), or simplify eats with a bacon pita burger, with beef, bacon, and cheddar jack sandwiched between two slices of crisp pita spread with homemade honey dijon ($8). End an evening on a syrupy note with a sumptuous slice of New York–style cheesecake ($6).