Evo Bistro

A bistro that's all about wine--and fun

At Evo Bistro, a new wine bar in McLean, it’s easy to forget you’re in a restaurant. The place has the feel of a house party that never ends. Customers—many who seem to know one another—come, go, sit at the bar, and gather around a high-tech altar that delivers wine at the press of a button.

Automated winetasting gizmos are taking hold around the country. At Evo, you buy a wine card, slip it into a slot above the bottle that’s caught your eye, then decide on a one-, three-, or five-ounce pour. If you’re so inclined, you could taste all 32 wines in a single night.

Beyond the automatic server is a roster of 18 more wines available by the glass and bottle. These can be sipped at the bar or at small tables in this modern space done up in hues of chocolate and ecru. You can add a round of tapas. You can also take a bottle or case home—because this is Virginia, not Maryland, Evo sells wine as well as serves it. The bottles go beyond familiar picks into more esoteric territory, as with the crisp 2006 Craggy Grange Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand or a spicy 2005 Root: 1 Cabernet from Chile.

A big part of Evo’s charm is owner Sidney Sakho, who along with chef Driss Zahidi is an alum of the nearby Corner Bistro. Sakho is a host in the style of Cafe Milano’s Franco Nuschese, hugging regulars and reeling in newcomers with a smile. Requisite wine nibbles such as cheese and charcuterie are on the menu, but more interesting are the spice-laden small plates inspired by Zahidi’s Moroccan homeland and the Mediterranean.

Sautéed shrimp are garlicky and luscious. Garlic also perfumes a mini-casserole of baby clams steeped in butter, shallots, and white wine with bits of chorizo that add a jolt of heat. When the clams are gone, the crusty chorizo makes an equally fine bread topper. The same goes for the vivid jumble of green and black olives cradling spicy Moroccan sausages known as merguez.

A spinach crepe spilling buttery lump crab and drizzled with vanilla-saffron sauce could be a multicultural mess. But the delicacy of the approach makes it one of the most engaging dishes on the menu. Fried tidbits are deftly done, be they Ping-Pong-ball–size croquetas of potato, chicken, and ham or crunchy rings and tentacles of calamari paired with harissa-spiked aïoli, the sort of condiment you’ll want to slather on everything.

On a menu this eclectic, there are bound to be misfires. Pistachio-crusted lamb chops are a bit slapdash, as are icy-cold white anchovies with a spritz of orange vinaigrette. Grilled quail is tough, though the garlicky white beans beneath it are tender. And a seafood-, chicken-, and chorizo-studded main-course paella doesn’t deliver the saffrony essence that is the secret of this simple dish. A more satisfying pick among the limited entrées is the savory lamb shank with couscous and vegetables, served Moroccan-style in an earthenware tagine.

The best way to round out your meal? Mango-mousse cake, a multilayered chocolate cake, and a pear tartlet are passable. Better to savor a glass or two of the honeyed 2001 Samos Nectar—because wine is what Evo is ultimately all about.

This review appeared in the December, 2007 issue of The Washingtonian.