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Wine-Geek Chic

La Vista caters to BYOB diners

When I walk up to La Vista on Fountain View carrying a bottle of wine, I notice a poster in the window that says the restaurant has applied for a liquor permit. This triggers a wave of panic in me. "We're going to start selling beer and wine, but you'll still be able to bring your own," the waitress says in a comforting voice as she leads me to a table. That's a relief. If La Vista started turning away BYOB customers, Houston wine geeks would be left to wander the streets.

There's often a wait for a table after sunset, so I arrive early and choose a prime outdoor spot, although the sun is still a little warm. There are more tables outside than inside at La Vista, so the people-watching is better out here. Ceiling fans provide a breeze. There's also an impressive-looking bank of thunderclouds building in the distance, and I'm betting a downpour is going to cool us off.

Like every table at La Vista, the one I get is already set with wine glasses. The waiter removes the Louis Latour Chablis from my insulated carrier and places the bottle in an ice bucket. The latest in wine-geek fashion, the bag holds two bottles and has a zippered pouch for my corkscrew and notebook.

Yellowfin tuna, grilled rare and served with artichoke 
hearts, portobello mushrooms and linguine: By far the 
best thing on the table.
Troy Fields
Yellowfin tuna, grilled rare and served with artichoke hearts, portobello mushrooms and linguine: By far the best thing on the table.

Location Info

Map

La Vista

1936 Fountain View
Houston, TX 77057

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: Galleria

Details

Pizza: $16
Salmon: $19
Tuna: $19
Tenderloin: $21
Mixed grill: $25
1936 Fountain View, 713-787-9899. Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays; 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturdays; 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sundays.

My pride in my hip accessories fades rapidly when my dining companions arrive. Not only have they brought a bottle of bubbly, they also have four crystal champagne flutes packed in their wine luggage. We uncork the champagne and order a basilico pizza, which is made with marinated tomatoes, garlic, virgin olive oil and mozzarella. The crust is a little too thick and rubbery for my taste, and there's too much cheese, but the simplicity of the toppings makes it an excellent pizza to eat with a bottle of wine. And at La Vista, everybody drinks wine.

At the tables within our immediate view, there are several bottles of Australian Shiraz, some German Rhines and an intriguing-looking Portuguese rosé. I brought along the Louis Latour to make a point about the misunderstood Chablis region. Ever since cheap jug-wine makers borrowed the name, Americans have come to associate Chablis with wine-in-a-box.

In fact, French Chablis is made entirely from Chardonnay grapes grown in the Burgundy region. Together, the northern climate of the Chablis vineyards and the aging process, which takes place in stainless steel instead of oak, produce a sharp, crisp flavor that the French often describe as "flinty." French Chablis is too tart to serve as an aperitif, but it's a colossal wine with fish.

I order salmon, which arrives in a bowl over grilled squash, sautéed spinach and roasted potatoes. The ample chunk of fish is medium rare as requested, and it's so moist, it flakes apart under the pressure of my fork. I follow my first bite of buttery chargrilled salmon with a sip of tart, cold Chablis and smile in appreciation. I try to share my fish with the tablemate to my right, but he is lost in his own taste sensations. He has ordered the yellowfin tuna, grilled rare so that the center is still bright red. It's served over artichoke hearts, big grilled portobello mushroom slices and a pile of linguine in an olive oil-and-caper sauce. And it's by far the best thing on the table.

A downpour suddenly drenches the parking lot in front of us. It's lovely to watch the rain from our sheltered table. But the hot pavement produces a cloud of steam that leaves us hotter and sweatier than before. I look with envy at the tables inside the air-conditioned dining room.

The woman to my left gets cornmeal-crusted trout, which tastes dry even though it's covered with a forgettable cilantro-poblano-citrus sauce. Another friend gets shrimp 'n' grits, which is disappointing. The original South Carolina recipe calls for shrimp cooked in butter to be served over grits. Here the dish is a mound of cheese polenta topped with grilled shrimp wrapped in prosciutto. I am not fond of the cheese-and-seafood combination, and the ham makes the shrimp too salty.

When I invited her to join us, the woman with the trout didn't quite understand the appeal of La Vista. "Why do wine lovers want to go to a restaurant that doesn't have wine?" she asked.


People bring their own wine to a restaurant for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, it makes a luxurious dinner a lot cheaper. About a week ago, on my first visit to La Vista, I took a walk around the restaurant. Every single table had a bottle of wine on it.

A quick perusal of the labels provided a snapshot of what Houstonians are drinking now. Australian Shiraz was far and away the most common red. Among the whites, I saw an Alsatian Pinot Gris and a lot of Chardonnay. I also noticed an elderly couple tucked away in a corner with a bottle of Manishevitz chilling in an ice bucket. Wines in the $8 to $15 price range seemed to be the most common. Fountainview Liquor, a few doors down from the restaurant, carries plenty of bottles in this range.

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