Wine & Dine

It’s not breaking news to report that St. Johns Town Center has perhaps the densest collection of restaurants in the city. One can’t swing a French baguette in the area without hitting an eatery of some kind, many of which are upscale corporate operations. Late last year, it was into this crowded arena that Ovinté jumped. This combination wine bar, cocktail lounge and tapas restaurant is a locally driven endeavor, a welcome addition to the Southside shopping and dining mecca.
Whereas many of its neighbors can lure patrons with their familiar national names (Capitol Grille, PF Chang’s) or enormous portions (Cheesecake Factory), Ovinté thinks small with a cozy environment and tapas plates. However, even in a commercial district that seems to expand exponentially, dreaming small can be an admirable goal.
The interior is wide open, with little to impede the eyes’ scanning from one side of the large, squarish space to the other. The bar area greets patrons as they walk in, and dining tables and booths are located on the far wall. Groupings of contemporary low-backed couches fill the center of the dimly-lit room. The bar, lighting, seating, and upbeat music played on the sound system lend a nightclub vibe.
The menu is laced with Italian, Spanish and Mediterranean flavors. As is the custom in tapas- style restaurants, servings are generally smaller in portions (not counting the herb truffle fries, $5, which is sizable) but big on flavor. Plate presentation is sophisticated, but the chefs tend to let simple and quality ingredients speak for themselves.
Many diners opt for the cheese and charcuterie portion of the menu. And it’s a good place to start; selections are offered in choices of three, five and seven, priced at $15, $23 and $32, respectively. Options such as aged manchego from Spain, five-year gouda from the Netherlands, and blue stilton from Georgia may be paired with thin sheets of prosciutto or Serrano ham and slices of chorizo seasoned with smoked paprika. These plates are accompanied by a wedge of local honeycomb, a scattering of almonds and fresh seasonal fruit.
The ample collection of tapas dishes covers a lot of ground. From applewood smoked bacon- wrapped dates, $5, to grilled pork tenderloin skewers seasoned with Moorish spices, $7, this section of the menu is meant to be shared or paired to make a complete meal. The ceviche fresco, $8, a tidy melange of marinated fish with citrus, onion, radish, olives and pepper and served with crispy tortilla chips, is a customer fave. So is the diced beef tenderloin tartare, $12, served with a salad of arugula, shallots, capers and shaved parmigiano.
The list of eight small plates count as entrées here. Again, portions aren’t large, but the $10-$20 price range is fitting. Sautéed clams with chorizo, tomato, garlic, white wine and saffron served with bread, $13; and roasted pumpkin risotto with wild mushrooms, leeks and herbs, $12, represent the range of options.
110208 Buckhead Branch Dr.; St. Johns Town Center; 900-7730,
Hours: 2 PM-midnight, Tuesday-Wednesday; 2 PM-1 AM, Thursday-Saturday; noon-8 PM, Sunday. Closed Monday.
Bocce, Anyone?: A gravel bocce court stretches adjacent to the patio dining area. Staff members will happily explain the rules, should you need assistance. Think of it  as kind of like horseshoes, but with balls instead of iron shoes.
Hey, Bartender: Specialty cocktails are numerous, as are boutique label whiskeys and other fine spirits. The wine list is immense. Check out the Wineemotion dispensing machines and the private lockers.
Sweet Tooth: Try the Smores D’Ovinte: graham cracker dipped in chocolate, with sea salt and house-made marshmallow.
Spaces Available: Valet parking is a welcome service. This is the Town Center, after all.