Philip Cooper is either lucky, shrewd or a little of both, because it seems he found the perfect location to open his wine bar, Vin25.
Cooper worked his way up from valet to management at Ray’s on the River, and during his time in the restaurant world his interest in and love for wine continued to grow. When he mentioned to owner Ray Schoenbaum that he was interested in becoming a sommelier, Schoenbaum agreed to fund his training and certification. By the time he was 26, Cooper had become a level one sommelier, and he since has moved on to level two. He’d always had the dream of owning his own restaurant and knew wine would be a big part of that.
Just off Roswell’s Canton Street restaurant row, Cooper’s little wine bistro is poised to thrive. No neighborhood in the
metro area, inside or outside the Perimeter, can match Roswell for a night out on foot. If they drive at all, many locals carpool to the restaurant row. Patrons bounce along the strip — making stops for cocktails, dinner, dessert and maybe a nightcap — and then walk back to whatever surrounding subdivision they call home.
Formerly Mittie’s Tea Room, the revamped space now home to Vin25 evokes a rustic contemporary wine country lodge. It’s relatively small, with seating for about 50 diners, so weekend nights should be reserved for an evening you don’t plan to rush. On a raucous Saturday, the wait for a table is two hours — the longest seen to date — but most don’t seem to care, as long as they can squeeze into the bar and have something to sip on.
Cooper’s staff, and most of the crowd, checks their pretensions at the door. Each of our servers surprises me, not only with their knowledge of Cooper’s extensive wine list, but also with the genuine thrill they convey in guiding me through it. The slightest hesitation on my part in deciding between a glass of the ’08 Peju cabernet sauvignon ($16) and the ’11 Domain Laroque Cab Franc ($9), and before I can say, “Oh, don’t worry about it,” the server zips away, returning with samples of three different big reds.
Cooper’s original list of 25 wines by the glass swelled with the addition of a few sparkling wines. Adding to that total are six to eight top shelf bottles on display in the Enomatic system, which refrigerates and preserves the wine. Diners can order a splash or half-glass to get a taste of the good stuff without breaking the bank. My slightly chilled glass of ’09 Laird Cab ($20) tells me that it is in fine working order and a great addition to Cooper’s program. Add to that a bottle list more than 100 deep, and even the most dedicated oenophiles will find plenty to keep them coming back.
Beer and cocktail lovers needn’t fret. A quick glance and I spot at least three bourbons that only the more serious bartenders in town keep on the shelf. And though it isn’t the longest in town, the beer list doesn’t waste space on pedestrian gas-station brews, offering drafts like Dogfish Head Chicory Stout ($8) and the local Red Hare Brown Ale ($7).
You’ll find no suggested pairings on the dinner menu, but rest assured, Cooper and his staff will be happy to match your plates to your glass. I appreciate the lack of pushiness in this department. They allow the diner to decide, but are ready at a moment’s notice to guide the less educated or unsure. I find that at many wine bars the staff either correctively suggests an alternative, insulting those who know what they like, or offers little meaningful insight when asked.
During his tenure as sous chef at Ray’s at Killer Creek, Robert Rambo befriended Cooper. They spent many late nights after closing, with Rambo feeding them and Cooper pouring the wine. Once Cooper’s vision for Vin25 came together, a partnership seemed the obvious choice. In keeping with the traditional wine bar style, Cooper and Rambo put together a menu of mostly small plates and a handful of entrees.
Given the location and the wine list, Rambo likely could phone it in and still pack the place with pre- and post-dinner crowds. Instead, he offers a rich square of braised pork belly ($13) alongside an ingenious flash-fried whole soft-boiled egg and quince mostarda. As my fork crackles through the crisped breading, the still-runny yolk spills onto the plate, blending with the smooth goat-cheese aioli. An order of crispy arancini ($7) gets a meaty, earthy boost from bits of house-cured bacon and mushroom.
A mix of the snacks and small plates could make an entire meal, and you’d still leave happy. But consider instead a
quartet of beautifully seared scallops ($23) atop creamy mitake and celery root risotto, garnished with bacon. And my hearty, tender braised lamb shank ($28) and creamed Brussels sprouts makes my glass of earthy cab franc go down that much smoother.
But make sure you save room for dessert, as the chocolate donuts ($7), glazed with chocolate ganache, are a perfect way to end the night.
Vin25 has rocketed up my list of wine bars in the metro area. It’s definitely worth a drive, though you might want to think about a cab for the ride home.
VIN25 — Roswell Food: modern small plates and entrees Service: excellent, educated and eager to help Best dishes: Braised lamb shank and pork belly with fried egg Vegetarian selections: a few salads and a cheese plate Credit cards: all major credit cards Hours: 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 5 p.m.-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 5 p.m.-9 p.m. Sundays, closed Mondays Children: not the best choice Parking: private gravel lot Reservations: parties of six or more Wheelchair access: yes Smoking: no Noise level: low to loud, depending on the night Patio: yes Takeout: yes