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Eating Good in the 'hood 

Vino Libro tests the waters of Glenwood Park

Vino Libro could easily become the litmus test for Glenwood Park, the canary in the coal mine of North Ormewood's idealistic new development. The tone of the place fits right in with Glenwood Park's image -- young, hip and more urban than the broad front porches and leafy gardens of the surrounding neighborhoods. The development aims to provide true city living to the inhabitants of this city, with apartments above storefronts rather than driveways and lawns.

Vino Libro, in turn, is fully geared toward the residents of this world, whether that world is a reality yet or not. Apart from Perk, the coffee shop down the street, and a few retail spaces, the other storefronts of Glenwood Park have remained empty.

The development couldn't have asked for a better test subject than this wine shop, wine bar and "bistro." Vino Libro conjures just the sort of scene that Glenwood Park fancies itself. On warm evenings late this past summer, the sidewalk outside of Vino Libro teemed with attractive young wine drinkers; the party seemed to infectiously spread to the steps of the apartments above, and the whole scene looked like a stage set of a sanitized New York City. The customers looked like they could at any minute leap up and break into song and dance, part of a hip musical about young urban singles and their quest for love. Or something.

Inside, Vino Libro offers lounge seating, smooth music and a large fireplace. The adjacent retail space sells wine by the bottle as well as books, mainly of the lifestyle variety. The wine-shop component doesn't seem to get much business, which is surprising -- this is a part of town where the only options for buying wine up until now have been cheap liquor stores and bad supermarket selections.

Tapas are the name of the game here, small bites designed to pair with wine. The chef has already changed once in Vino Libro's short life. Opening chef Alex Rosado took American bar and bistro classics, dressed them up, pared them down and created a menu of high-end finger food. The new chef, Chad Anderson, is moving in a more seasonal direction, and the menu now is at the stage where some of Rosado's items stand and some of Anderson's items are sneaking in.

Everything looks and tastes like it should be a passed hors d'oeuvre at a fancy wedding. Bites of smoked salmon over habanero cream, beef tips with gorgonzola fondu, mini chicken quesadillas with avocado cream -- all pack a small flavor punch and encourage more drinking. The tuna "au poivre," despite its Francophile name, is served over the same Asian-inflected slaw that has become as ubiquitous as mashed potatoes on the menus of unadventurous New American restaurants, but it is fresh and laced with ginger. When high-ticket places billed as fine dining try to pass food like this off as cutting-edge, it annoys me. But when a neighborhood wine bar serves it up, it hits the spot. I'd hire Anderson to cater a wedding any day. One of his new menu items, a tomato-and-basil soup with a grilled taleggio sandwich, is pure pleasure -- silky, rich and addictive.

Unfortunately, the wine selection tends toward the uninspired. More than once, I have arrived at the end of the list with nothing striking my fancy. Vino Libro's list does aim toward the eclectic, with smaller producers and lesser-known labels. But there's very little here to keep oenophiles with more eclectic palates engaged -- no strange varietals, no funky surprises.

The other hole in the restaurant landscape of Atlanta's eastern neighborhoods is a grown-up brunch, and Vino Libro is doing its best to fill that gap. But up until now, the kitchen has been unable to break out of the tapas mold, and it's a format that doesn't do well. The same savory mustard-and-tarragon lamb chops that work so well in the evening are served for breakfast alongside two eggs. Delicious. But for $12, don't I deserve a piece of bread? A side of potatoes? Small plates sure are cute, but I need a big plate to take care of my Sunday-morning blues. Apple crepes, seemingly a bargain at $4, constitute barely three mouthfuls. Perhaps Anderson will do something to ramp up brunch.

Management is still getting the staffing levels right, and servers can be overwhelmed. But, like the clientele, they are young, hot and happy. And when they get into a groove, the tone here is just right.

But there are certain standards of lifestyle that customers should be aware of. I made the mistake once of bringing my child here. The waiters and owners were nothing short of pleasant, but it was obvious that we were ruining the other customers' image of themselves as folks who hang out in places far too hip for children to be present. Grant Park this ain't.

But it also ain't Atlantic Station, or Buckhead for that matter. Vino Libro is certainly hip and slick, but it is homegrown. It is somebody's baby. That someone -- owner Melanie Wilson -- can almost always be seen looking impeccable while busting her butt, chatting with customers, recommending wines and keeping things running. Even if the neighborhood Vino Libro wants to represent is yet to be fully realized, it is a neighborhood spot through and through. I'll cheers to that.

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