By Suzanne Parker
Call it a wine bar, tapas bar (Spain), enoteca (Italy) or Izakaya (Japan) — cozy spots pairing glasses of wine with small plates have long been one of the pleasures of travel. Happily, this style of nibbling and imbibing has firmly taken root locally. Fino Wine & Tapas, a newcomer on Bell Boulevard in Bayside, is a panâˆ’European exemplar of this trend.
Fino’s dimly lit space is sleek and stylish. Red walls with recessed lighting and dark wood paneling set the mood. A dominant feature is a glassedâˆ’in. climateâˆ’controlled “wine cellar” displaying a prodigious array of carefully chosen bottles.
Service is friendly, knowledgeable and solicitous, although the pacing left some room for improvement. We grouped our choices so that the dishes that would complement lighter wines would come first and indicated that to our server. Unfortunately, a significant hiatus between the arrival of our more hearty fare and our more robust wine choice defeated the intent.
The menu emphasizes Spanish dishes, with a lot of attention being paid to Serrano ham and chorizo. Italian items are the runner up, with some Argentineâˆ’style short ribs thrown in for good measure. Fino’s chef, John Cincinelli, cut his culinary teeth as an apprentice to some of Europe’s most acclaimed chefs, including master chef Paul Bocuse.
We chose Adegas Morgadio, a light, fruity white Spanish wine with citrus notes, to complement our first three plates. We had described what we were looking for in a wine to our server, and this wine, his suggestion, was perfect.
Fino’s bruchetta con le cipolle e la mozzarella bears little resemblance to any bruchetta we’ve encountered. This version, made of grilled garlic toast with caramelized, balsamic onions and fresh mozzarella, is more like a fancy openâˆ’faced grilled cheese sandwich. It was as delicious as substantial. Bruchetta? Maybe not, but tasty? Yes!
Cozzi e chorizo in brodetto, or mussels and chorizo in a rich wine broth, was a brilliant marriage of flavors. The intensely aromatic broth was loaded with character. We didn’t waste a drop.
The red pepper and potato salad that came with the grilled octopus was a delight, but unfortunately the octopus itself was tough and mealy.
We moved on to a Bodega Norton Malbec, a robust Argentine wine we had intended for our beef sample. This was particularly fortuitous because, although it wasn’t described as such on the menu, our short ribs was an Argentine preparation. Described only as “green sauce,” the accompaniment was actually chimichurri, Argentina’s parsleyâˆ’based national sauce. The sliced short ribs were served rare and unadorned. The beef was served with nice, crisp roasted diced potatoes.
A plate of cavoletti con pancetta, or brussels sprouts braised with pancetta, was a logical companion to our short ribs. These were brussels sprouts that anyone could love, and our Malbec stood up nicely to the intense flavor of the sprouts.
The Bottom Line
One of the pluses of this style of dining is that along with portion control, you can also, to some extent, exercise wallet control. If you’re the sort that likes to order two appetizers and no entrÉe, this is a way to do it sans embarrassment. Fino offers casual dining and wine exploration in sophisticated surroundings. Valentine’s Day is coming up. This might just fit the bill.
Suzanne Parker is the TimesLedger’s restaurant critic and author of “Eating Like Queens: A Guide to Ethnic Dining in America’s Melting Pot, Queens, N.Y.” She can be reached by eâˆ’mail at email@example.com.
39âˆ’13 Bell Blvd.