Regular readers may recall that I have used this space in the past to review more traditional fare from locations such as Fat Boy's Roadside Eats and Hillbilly Willy's Bar-B-Q (both mouthwatering dining experiences, by the way).
However, I also appreciate more exotic and highbrow culinary delights, and I have the refined palate to appreciate the finer things. No, seriously.
If you go
* Where: Virgola Chattanooga Oysters and Italian Wine Bar, 608 Georgia Ave.
* Hours: 4-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 4-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday
* Price range: $7 for desserts to $100 for the Grande Seafood Platter
* Alcohol: Wide selection of Italian wines; beer also available
* Phone: 423-771-7773
* Website: www.chattanoogawinebar.com
Virgola is a new wine and oyster bar located in the Fountain Square area of downtown near the Hamilton County Courthouse. Originally founded in New York City, Virgola's concept is an excellent Italian wine selection paired with oysters, ceviche, cured meats, cheese and caviar. The concept has been spreading across the country through franchising, and former Hamilton County teacher Cheri Guerdon recently opened the Chattanooga location.
The restaurant is located next to the the Hogshead Building on Georgia Avenue. It has a generous bar space along with table seating and a large booth that could accommodate several friends comfortably. The decor features dark colors and muted lighting.
Perhaps the most unique and unexpected feature of the space is a small courtyard in the back that allows a few diners to enjoy their wine and food al fresco. The outdoor space only has room for a small number of guests, but it is an interesting alternative to the interior space.
Chattanooga restaurants featuring oysters have become more common in recent years. Raw oysters may not be for everyone, but there seems to be enough local demand to justify so many options.
Virgola features both East Coast and West Coast oysters, each with its own distinct flavor and texture.
The menu also has a good selection of other types of uncooked seafood such as scallop carpacio, salmon crudo, ceviche and tuna tartare ($9-$16), and there is a good selection of cheese and cured meats (all $8). Additionally, there are two types of caviar for those who want a different taste ($12 and $25).
Initially, Virgola did not feature a wide variety of hot food, but last week a selection of grilled panini sandwiches was added to the menu ($12-$16). This is a good addition for customers who may not enjoy the uncooked and seafood-heavy menu, and adding an Italian sandwich remains in keeping with the theme of the restaurant.
Count me among those who enjoy a good raw oyster, so I ordered a half-dozen of the East Coast oysters and an order of Raschera cheese. The oysters were served well and were quite fresh, and the cheese (served with spiced honey) paired well with an Italian Falanghina white wine.
After that, I ordered four stuffed oysters broiled with bread crumbs and spices along with Gorgonzola cheese and the $5 daily wine special.
Everything was delicious, plated well and made for a memorable experience. Certainly the menu may not be for everyone with so much raw food on it, but the delicate flavors and good wines make for a great experience.
The staff at Virgola were attentive and knew the menu well. The ability to explain the menu to customers is crucial with such distinctive offerings, and my servers were a help in making my choices.
It should be noted that Virgola is not the cheapest night out, but a wine and oyster bar should offer high-end choices for wine and food. This is not a place you should go looking for a cheap meal, nor should it be. That said, there are wine specials and other discounts, so be sure to check with the server if you're on a budget.
Virgola brings a new concept to Chattanooga, and its addition to the Fountain Square area could help rejuvenate an area that hasn't been as popular as the newer West Village and Southside areas of downtown.
The food is good, there is a wide selection of Italian wines (there's also beer if you're not a wine aficionado) and the service is quite good.
The intimate mood of the space makes it perfect for a small group of friends or for couples looking for a romantic date-night experience.
Virgola Chattanooga is a concept that may not be for everyone, but they are quite good at what they do. If you're looking for something different in a classy setting, Virgola may be the spot for you.
Contact Jim Tanner at JFTanner@gmail.com. Follow him at twitter.com/JFTanner.