Wine snobbery got a little more accessible this spring when MetroVino opened across from Tanner Springs Park, in the space that last housed the upscale Mexican joint D.F. The restaurant offers all of its 64 wines by the 1.5-ounce taste or 4.5-ounce glass, thanks to the high-tech Enomatic wine system, a giant behind-the-bar vino dispenser, invented in Tuscany in 2002, that keeps wine fresh for weeks by filling the bottles with argon gas after each pour. (MetroVino also has a Perlage system that does the same thing for sparkling wine.) So if you really want to try that 2001 Barolo but don't have a spare Ben Franklin, you can settle for a somewhat less steep $11 taste or $33 glass. Or you can forgo the precious pours altogether and stick to the 26 wines available for $9 or less, or drinks from the full bar.
Although MetroVino's wine service is fantastic, it doesn't eclipse the food. Executive chef Gregory Denton, formerly sous chef at Lucier, has put together a special menu for this underserved corner of the Pearl.
For example: The smoked trout and cucumber salad ($13) begins with warm trout blended with crème fraîche and horseradish, followed by a mince of cold celery and cucumber dressed in a subtle dill vinaigrette with a base of roasted skin-on new potatoes and nicely browned pieces of pork belly. The flavor progression of this top-to-bottom salad is delightful, and goes well with a crisp, acidic Dobbes Viognier ($2.75 taste; $8.25 glass). The MetroVino staff is well educated about pairings in any price range, but also aware that some want to talk wine and others just want to drink it.
The asparagus starter ($10) is a handful of sweet and crunchy grilled spears in a brown-butter anchovy sauce topped with a tiny grilled anchovy along with the prize—a breaded and fried poached egg. Slice it and the yolk oozes over everything.
If you're after a flavorful big plate, the lamb T-bone with housemade lamb sausage ($24) delivers. Slivers of garlic, fennel and its lacy greens, and a generous glug of olive oil flavor the tomato-chickpea-olive sauce that floats a soft puck of lamb sausage seasoned with cumin and fennel. Perched on top of it all is a juicy, perfectly cooked T-bone.
Another nice surprise at MetroVino are the dessert cheese plates. These are uncommon in Portland, no matter how many people recite the "we're so European" mantra, but MetroVino has several: The Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawk plate ($8) is a small wedge of the creamy washed-rind cheese served with pecans and a tiny butternut-squash crumble. The clothbound Cabot cheddar plate ($7) pairs a few hunks of the English-style, cave-aged cheddar with a caraway-studded miniature hot pretzel and a side of spicy whole-grain mustard. If savory isn't your thing, don't worry—there are sweet desserts as well.
When a restaurant chooses as its focus something that needs to be repeatedly defined to patrons, whether it be molecular gastronomy, animatronics (although Chuck E. is pretty self-explanatory) or state-of-the-art wine systems, servers must straddle a fine line between being helpful and being annoyingly didactic. MetroVino walks the line well. There are no tableside lectures in the cleanly designed dining room, and no manifestos in the dark leather bar. There is fine wine and delicious, inspired food. Pour us another taster, winebot.
Order this: Grilled wild Alaskan halibut ($24) with bottarga-aioli bruschetta over clam broth with plump corona and scarlet runner beans and freshly shelled peas.
Best deal: A mere $10 mark-up on retail bottle price for wine consumed in-house (all in-house wine is also for sale to go).
I'll pass: On the dining room. The bar is super comfortable with a nice view of the constantly flowing wine, and more relaxed, but with expert service nonetheless.