In my utopian future, every neighborhood has its own little wine bar where locals can congregate to share a glass of wine with friends and gossip about the goings on within a ten or twelve block radius. Of course if we all lived in small towns in France or Italy, we wouldn't need to fantasize about such institutions, we would have grown up with them. But alas, here we are in San Francisco, and we have to make our own bits of the old world come to life.
For a time, I very nearly was about to take matters into my own hands and actually open a wine bar myself on my local main street, Cortland Avenue in Bernal Heights. It's probably good that Vega Freeman-Bradley and her husband Giuseppe beat me to it -- I'd much rather drink wine than serve it. VinoRosso is as close to an old world Enoteca as you can get in San Francisco, down to its genial owners who often have their baby son slung over their hips as they serve their mostly local clientele. Like many of those old world drinking establishments, VinoRosso comes with its own quirks. Despite having about twenty seats maximum, the service is friendly but can sometimes be atrociously slow, especially when there are more than a few tables full. The cheese plates and salami plates are done well, but experiments with other hot dishes in the tiny countertop kitchen seem to not work out so well.
Lucky patrons who find the owners waiting on them will have their questions about the wines answered accurately and with aplomb, but the young help that fill in for the owners on some nights vary widely in their knowledge of the wines on the list, and even wine in general.
The wine list is one of the bar's more redeeming features, particularly in its length, offering 15 or so whites, about 40 reds, and a half-dozen sparklers and dessert wines by the glass or by the reasonably priced bottle (3x the glass price). All but four or five of the wines on the list are from Italy or Sicily and range widely across the various regions and appellations of the country. And if your head is swimming after looking through the list and you care to browse by the label, the wine racks are nearby (though this means that the wines are not stored in a temperature controlled area -- connoisseurs beware).
The fact that VinoRosso is stumbling distance from my front door, means that I'm somewhat of a regular customer there, as are many of the wine lovers in Bernal Heights. The size of the place, the casual atmosphere (which can often include one or more strollers and a couple of kids playing on the cement floor) and the humble offerings of wine and food mean that this bar isn't worthy of being a destination for folks outside the 94110 zip code. For those of us in Bernal and the Inner Mission, however, it's a friendly place to stop by.
629 Cortland Ave
San Francisco, CA
Open 4:00 PM to 11:00 PM Tuesdays through Sundays. Closed on Mondays.
Typically the bar offers Italian conversation with a local teacher between 4 and 7 on Tuesdays, and a kid friendly "Wine and Whiners" service early on Wednesday nights.
Parking in the area is reasonably easy to find in the residential streets just off Cortland, just be careful about blocking driveways. One of them might be mine!
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