Feudo Arancio Nero d'Avola

La Gra Italian Tapas
1227 Tamm Avenue
314-645-3972.

We want to nap on the bar. We want to climb up on the black vinyl chairs and slowly, carefully, put one knee up on the bar, then the other, then lie face-down, our cheek pressed to its smooth, warm surface, and gradually succumb to a peaceful snooze. La Gra's bar is, literally, warm: It's made from tiger onyx, says our waitress Erika, and it's heated, underlit with rope lights so that its surface glows in fuzzy-looking orange and black stripes. We imagine lying on it would feel sort of like a low-wattage tanning bed, minus the threat of skin cancer.

Outside, the temperature has dropped some 60 degrees in the last six hours. The exhaust coming from passing cars resembles the contrails left by jets, and the wind is whipping around dead leaves so violently it sounds like a rainstorm. Our waitress says we're crazy for venturing out in this weather and we agree: During our short walk here from our car across the street, we bared our teeth in a contorted grimace as we ran into the wind, clutching our fiancé's arm, feeling not unlike a character in a Bob Seger song. We dreamily eye the glowing bar again from our table.

But in fact, the whole space is warm: The brick-red walls are accented with Rat Pack and Marilyn pics as well as art that resembles those vintage Leonetto Cappiello posters that seem to find their way into Italian restaurants and onto apartment walls of twentysomethings who fancy themselves worldly. From where we sit, we can see into a back dining area where painted archways give way to a broad mural of an Italian countryside, and beyond that is Cairdeas Coffee.

Erika explains that the majority of La Gra's Italian-infuenced menu items are served tapas-style and she cheekily suggests that if the two of us don't like each other very much and would rather not share our food, we should consider ordering independent "large plates" instead. We laugh, resisting the urge to tell her that, no, we don't mind sharing, and we know at least some of La Gra's barware is a part of Crate and Barrel's "Impressions" line because the two of us are currently registered for it.

Right away, we're struck by the affordability of the wine: most bottles are under $20; a couple house wines are as low as $12. We settle on a glass of the Sicillian Feudo Arancio Nero d'Avola, and for just $5 (a bottle's $15), we consider the wine a fine conversationalist. It interjects its spices — blackberry, black cherry, cassis — in all the right places, but it's never boisterous and knows when to shut up and let the food do its thing.

"We could easily drink four bottles here," says our fiancé after poring over the wine list. We think about that hypothetically as we look at the clock on the wall that's forever stopped at 8:01:40. With a few twenties and a warm place to lay our head, yes, we'd happily hole up and drink a few bottles of wine in this cozy nook where the temperature never drops below freezing and the minute hand never makes it to 8:02.

Got a drink suggestion? E-mail kristie.mcclanahan@riverfronttimes.com

 
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