Under the ownership of Federal Hill native Christopher Conti, Blush Winebar pours half and full glasses from hundreds of red, white, and sparkling libations. The upscale watering hole offers more than 100 wines by the glass, each with its own distinct flavor notes and secret cheese crush. A champagne bar highlights the bubbly beverage with glasses, full bottles, and three-flute samplers as well as a selection of champagne-based cocktails, such as the Blush Boom Boom, a mixture of Moët champagne, pomegranate liqueur, Grand Marnier, and orange juice. Executive chef Jacen Scungio blends fresh, local ingredients to create the flatbread pizzas, sliders, and handmade pastas that populate the wine bar’s tapas menu and keep hungry imbibers from trying to stomp their wines back into grapes.
Nature is responsible for stimulating all the senses at Cresta Bar & Ristorante, where diners savor fresh ingredients as they bask in the shade on an outdoor patio. Fresh flourishes such as foraged mushrooms and homemade pasta embellish the entrees, which include panko-encrusted cuts of veal and chicken. More than 60 wines pair with the meals so that guests don’t have to determine complementary flavors by licking a color wheel. Diners can eat either inside or on the terrace, where marble-topped tables reflect the leafy branches that criss-cross overhead, leaving matte wrought-iron bistro chairs to lounge on the flagstone patio.
Thanks to a $50 loan from his grandfather, Chef James Messinger was able to promote his small catering business in the local classifieds, kicking off the career he dreamt about as a student at the Culinary Institute of America. The unlikely success from this small ad helped The Crazy Chefs Caterers to flourish and allowed Messinger to finance a long-desired wine-tasting odyssey through Spain, where the local cuisine quickly captivated both his tongue and imagination. Upon arrival back home, he established Loco Tapas & Wine Bar with his wife, brandishing fresh, quality ingredients from local farms to construct traditional tapas influenced by Spain's Catalonia, Basque, and La Rioja regions. The highly praised seasonal menus flaunt a rotating arsenal of small plates and elegant entrees, including a saffron-rice paella with chicken, chorizo, and mussels that the Boston Globe declared as one of "40 fantastic dishes" in the Boston area.
Hovering above Loco Tapas & Wine Bar's fully stocked bar, a chalkboard announces a handwritten roster of Spanish wines by the glass. Elsewhere in the dining area, dangling chandeliers and flickering candles set the stage for shadow-puppet tours de force upon rich crimson walls. Striking black accents, tablecloths, and furniture punctuate the sleek color scheme.
Creativity and sustainability are the guiding principles of the restaurant co-owned by Johnson & Wales food-science professor Lynn Tripp. Mingling the disparate flavors of France, America, and Morocco, chefs treat palates to tapas, cheeses, and desserts in an intimate atmosphere warmly inspired by medieval chateaus. If not sidling up to the 35-seat wine bar or sinking into an Italian-leather sofa, diners feast amid cozily antiqued surroundings trimmed with stone arches and rough-hewn wooden columns. Wine barrels, a large, communal dining table, and romantically lowered lights bring a rustic charm to the storefront to welcome customers more warmly than a bear-hugging doormat.
Small plates have become more and more ubiquitous in all types of American restaurants, but Bocado Tapas Wine Bar stays true to the dining style's Spanish roots, using recipes and ingredients traditionally found in Mediterranean kitchens.
As Bocado's menu explains, some of their tapas are very simple, and some are decidedly more sophisticated. The frias, or cold dishes, include everything from marinated olives to raw tuna with lemon-basil crema, sweet-potato chips, and chili avocado. The calientes, or hot dishes, are equally diverse, counting both pork meatballs and piquillo peppers stuffed with veal, mahon cheese, basil, and pine nuts among them. To try a little bit of everything, order the Bocado Experience, a meal for up to eight people that includes a choice of charcuterie, tapas, paella, and desserts, with the option to add sangria.
Besides sangria, the restaurant serves a lengthy list of exclusively Spanish wines. Most are available by the pour, glass, or bottle, which means guests never have to sip them from a big vat in the back.