At Jeninni Kitchen + Wine Bar, it’s all about vision – of wine, of Mediterranean food, of the two forming perfect pairs. It’s the vision of owner Thamin Saleh, a seasoned sommelier who realized six years ago that Pacific Grove would enjoy a kitchen and wine bar where interesting dishes complement interesting drinks.
On any given day – except Wednesdays – Jeninni opens at 4pm with a long list of happy hour “snacks” and “sips” to match. Eggplant fries are a house specialty, and alongside delicious honey garlic aioli, they may be gone in minutes. If you prefer your fries crispy and made from potatoes, the regular ones come with a smokier dipping sauce made from salmorra – a Spanish mix of tomato, garlic and paprika. Southern Spain is a big influence for Saleh, although one can glean from the menu’s quirky glossary that his inspirations sail from Tunisia to Turkey.
Some flavors strike a theme. Take fig for example. The subtly sweet, juicy fruit can be found on a filone tartine, sitting on tangy labneh and dressed with pomegranate molasses, pistachios and olive oil. Each crunchy, slightly sweet bite contrasts with a more bitter play on the fruit: the fig Provencal cocktail, tartly spiced by Underberg and piqued by a hint of lemon.
Along with an eclectic wine list, Jeninni offers cocktails, but with no liquor in sight. Instead, Saleh and bartender Adrien Melac use soju-based “vodka,” “tequila” and “rum” or wine-based “whiskey” and “gin.” And there are impressively refreshing and complex mocktails. The cherry and seedlip spice mixes astringent fruit with burnt sugar syrup, almond extract and rose water, presenting a beautifully balanced and creative concoction.
If the drinks sound nuanced, just wait until the food arrives. Honey garlic aioli shows up on the fried chicken sandwich, as does lightly spiced harissa, mellow tahini, pickled onions and braised kale. It’s a surprising combination, and also made for one of the best fried chicken sandwiches I’ve ever tasted. Just be warned, the nightly availability is limited on this one. As for entrees, they are just as tempting and internationally influenced. Steak coulotte comes with potato gratin dauphinois and red wine sauce, or try the mussels and fries in a buttery white wine and shallot sauce.
One of the most popular choices is the crispy lamb shank – and for good reason. Living up to its name, the shank’s skin delivers a satisfying crunch, yet the interior remains tender thanks to several days of curing and braising. Served atop a heap of fresh, housemade tzatziki with a large side of baby gem lettuce, indulgence is balanced by the greens. The salad is simple – Castelvetrano olives plus shaved red onion and lemon-mint-olive oil vinaigrette – but with creamy tzatziki and flavorful lamb, the dish shows off the art of turning a few ingredients into a small masterpiece.
It seems Jeninni accomplishes this feat on every plate, and in every glass too, for that matter. As for vision, all items are presented beautifully – looking just as good as they taste.
JENINNI KITCHEN + WINE BAR 542 Lighthouse Ave., Pacific Grove. Thu-Tue 4pm-close. 920-2662, jeninni.com