An attractive, lively professional crowd nearly filled Vela Wine Bar last Thursday evening when Current food critic Ron Bechtoland A-B stopped in for a drink at Paloma Blanca’s adjacent sister operation. The contemporary furnishings are smart and comfy (if not arranged for nuzzling), and the wine list is solid (A-B had a Wild Horse pinot noir for $13; Ron sampled a happy-hour pinot for $5). The reasonably priced appetizers included a spicy hummus that was pleasantly zingy, a de-rigeur olive selection, and cheese plates, as well as some fancier fare. All in all, a very nice addition to the ’09. 5800 Broadway, (210) 822-7120. Happy hour: 4-7 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday, and half-price champagne on Wednesdays.
Speaking of Ron, he’s an architect by day, and his latest project, Damien Watel’s Ciel/Ciao2, is now open in Stone Oak for lunch and dinner (bistrovatel.com for info). That’s why you never see Ron’s name attached to a review of any of Damien’s growing SA empire. That job is left to our new team of restaurant stringers, which this week takes a fresh look at the original Ciao in Olmos Park — one of A-B’s favorite lunch spots (mmm, gnocchi).