Tapping into Tapas
Vinoteca 902 forgoes heavy bistro-inspired dishes for more tapas, mezze courses and flatbreads. It’s working.
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Shared plates and tapas: $6-$12
Lobster empanadas, tabbouleh salad, risotto croquettes
It was an icy afternoon in downtown Wilmington when the vice president reported for jury duty. With Joe Biden at the county courthouse, adjacent Market Street was buzzing with chaos. Cop cars and roving, tinted SUVs cruised the perimeter while Secret Service goons with dark shades and earpieces prowled the sidewalks.
I was hunching over a delicious Levantine tabbouleh salad inside the relatively serene Vinoteca 902. Gazing at the madness through the window I wondered silently if goons get lunch breaks.
The atmosphere was more still inside Vinoteca. It was a quiet first winter here, one that also afforded the restaurant’s star chef and owner, Julio Lazzarini, time for reflection.
Lazzarini, you might recall, landed a powerful jolt to the growth and energy of Wilmington’s Market Street renaissance when he opened Orillas Tapas in 2008. The CIA grad brought something new to a town thought to be set in its conservative ways. Nearly three years on, Orillas has not only stuck around, it’s galvanized a tapas revolution and made Lazzarini into a bona fide celebrity chef. He’s since appeared on the Food Network, at Meals from the Masters and the National Restaurant Association’s annual gala.
But with Vinoteca, the chef’s second Market Street restaurant in three years, Lazzarini faces a new challenge. Mid-winter, it seemed he was still figuring things out.
This spot for whatever reason has wreaked havoc on downtown restaurateurs. Its two previous tenants, The Exchange and The National, failed to take root. Vinoteca’s harsh winter forced a menu facelift in January, when Lazzarini wisely moved away from heavy, bistro-inspired dishes in favor of more tapas, mezze courses and flatbreads.
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