Giovanni Morales and Stephen Hoover, head chefs and co-owners of Ooviña wine and tapas bar, are bringing “gluten-free” into the fold with top-notch small plates in Hell’s Kitchen. Brimming with Guatemalan flare, a wonderful assortment of wine and spirits has already situated the tapas bar, located at 496 9th Ave, as an upscale go-to for date night and drinks — but with cuisine that packs a punch, this tapas bar holds its own.
Hundreds of hand-painted white orchids line the silky vines that drape Ooviña’s ceilings, making for an elegant ambience that feels off the beaten path. Lights that line the bar change from lavender to soft pink so gradually that you may never notice.
At the top of our menu is pan-seared Mexican cow’s milk cheese, a subtle take on the classic queso frito, topped with a tangy mango pico de gallo. Bold, yet simple flavors punctuate our first tapas; the artichokes, sautéed in sweet Spanish herbs and seeping with kale pesto; the Brussels sprouts, pan roasted in champagne butter and savory, seasonal herbs.
The tricolor heirloom shrimp ceviche is poached to perfection and easy to share among us three. Plated in a bath of fresh lime juice with cilantro, cucumber, and red onion, the homemade corn tortilla chips become all the more difficult to part with. Lindsey, our wine sommelier, nails the pairing, introducing us to the Carrusin “Folari Corti,” a dulcet Italian Moscato.
Pan-seared scallops arrive just shy of sizzling, a tender golden brown. Herbed butter, olives, and tiny bits of bacon all serve to coax out the scallop’s rich taste. The scallops are lovely, and only eclipsed by the pulled chicken tacos; green tomatillos, savory bell peppers, and onions, stewed for about an hour in a light chardonnay broth.
Carne guisada, stewed beef in a cabernet broth, is served on a bed of saffron rice, bringing a cast of carrots and pearl onions to the main stage. Another group favorite is the shrimp ajillo, a crossroads between spice, kick, and textured corn masa that comes together with an unexpected sweetness. Both of our favorites are paired with a 2012 Hewitson “Baby Bush” Mourvèdre, native to Barossa Valley, Australia, and striking for its earthy, berried notes as well as its ruby-red hue.
Dessert was a dream, sweet brown plantains in a caramel-rum reduction, plated with a bright cinnamon black been puree. What truly took the cake on our final stretch, though, was Ooviña’s signature dulce de leche flan brûlée, infused with raspberry pomegranate St. Germain preserves. Our wine flight disembarks with Cidrerie du Vulcain “Trois Pepins,” an ethereal, earthly Swiss cider made of three heirloom apples.
Our waiter Mateusz was an absolute delight, and the service was superb from beginning to end. All in all, Ooviña enchants from the moment you step in, and with no plate over $20, it packs a serious bang for your buck. A lot of love goes into this place, and the writing is on the wall, and on the ceilings. For a gem that brings bright flavors to an intimate, inviting atmosphere, think Ooviña.