Surrounded by Winetopia's brick-laden walls, visitors sample a succinct selection of tapas, absorb the notes of live music and karaoke, and explore the flavors of rare wines gathered from around the world. In the dining room, the arched tops of built-in wine cabinets fit snugly into exposed-brick walls, and the chatter of guests clustered around intimate tables syncs with the clinks of wineglasses alighting on a granite-top bar. A menu of small plates romances appetites with everything from light snacks, such as marcona almonds and indian popcorn, to more substantial morsels, including veggie samosas. Plates strewn with various cheeses find companionship in chatty napkins and the sweet notes of fresh fruit or the deep flavor of assorted cold cuts. The rotating selection of more than 200 small-production wines overrides the need for a formal list, so instead sommeliers pilot patrons through vinos imported from New Zealand, South Africa, Oregon, and Argentina. The less traveled can charter entire flights of wine or sign up for a tasting class, or eschew grapey spirits altogether for one of the bar’s 59 domestic or imported beers.
Pinot's Palette combines wine and art to create an enjoyable night out with friends or a date. The painting sessions encourage adults' inner artists whether they have any painting experience or not, encouraging light-hearted conversation, fun, and good cheer while painting and sipping BYOB beverages. Each session's painting of the night may feature anything from landscapes and wine-inspired art to known classics such as Van Gogh's Starry Night, and each painter tackles from their own artistic angle under the guidance of an experienced instructor. At the end of the night, painters can take their painting home with them and ring a "Gong of Awesomeness" on their way out to signify a good time.
Vine Wine Room tickles tummies with a selection of comestibles, served in an atmosphere ripe with Old-World touches and romantic, chandeliered lighting. Begin the elegant nosh fest with the tarama, a classic Greek spread with hints of pink caviar, garlic, and herbs ($6). Or sink fromage-loving fangs into a cheese plate, a mouth-caressing mélange of Texas-made paragon (a blend of cheddar and parmesan) cheese, feta, blanched almonds, and mixed olives ($16, $21 with prosciutto and pepperoni). A white or whole-wheat pita tastily traps thinly sliced prosciutto and paragon in the A Kid Again sandwich ($5), and the margherita pizza's fresh basil, mozzarella, and tomato sauce rest atop a pillowy crust as snuggly as a fresh lasagna swaddled in a sleeping bag ($13). The antique furnishings and hanging art create a cozy atmosphere in which to linger longer with the classic chocolate cake ($6), and the friendly, attentive serving staff will try to meet any request, except for those beginning with "I dare you to…"
Beneath the soft whirring of ceiling fans at all three Houston-area locations, chefs transform fresh ingredients into meat-centric and vegetarian Mexican dishes. Dark wooden beams hover over the sprawling, sunlit dining rooms, framing artfully plated seafood and steaks with dramatic architectural details. Spy conventions furtively crunch their nachos in private dining rooms, and visitors to the Cypress location can toast to tortillas on the outdoor patio.
Named for one of Spain’s most prominent wine regions, Rioja restaurant's extensive wine menu is merely the icing on a cake made of tapas. Voted the best paella in Houston by the Houston International Paella Festival in 2004 and 2005, Rioja enhances traditional hot and cold Spanish tapas with an array of exotic ingredients. Below intricate wrought-iron chandeliers, entrées of seafood paella and grilled baby-lamb chops pair with more than 50 wines. Stuffed piquillo peppers, prime-beef short rib, and white asparagus imported from Navarra pair up with Spanish paprika and sweet pear purée. After questioning servers about Rioja’s homemade chorizo, guests can study flags on the wall emblazoned with the Spanish crest, the silhouette of a bull, and the silhouette of an astronaut drinking a martini inside a black hole.
Try not to be distracted by the giant conveyor belt of piping hot and freshly-baked flatbread snaking its way around the deli area when you enter Phoenicia Specialty Foods. And don’t be surprised to see people carting entire grocery baskets full of their own steamy, hot bread to the checkout lanes. The baked in-house bundles are a bit of a store specialty, but by no means is it the only thing Phoenicia Specialty Foods’ Westheimer location has going for it. Tucked between the Westchase District and the Energy Corridor, Phoenicia stocks homemade yogurt, freshly baked desserts and a full deli of hot and cold dishes to eat on the patio or take to go. With high ceilings, lots of natural light and plenty of long, tall shelves, there’s a good bet you can find anything you need at this specialty outlet, including fresh produce.