Italian wine bar Enoteca opens in Big Sky

By Sarah Gianelli EBS Associate Editor

BIG SKY – As all good Italians know, it all comes down to the food. It is the linchpin of family and culture. It dictates the rhythm of each day and is the centerpiece around which all gatherings revolve, whether celebratory, mournful, mundane or sacramental. Even wine, important as it is, takes an ancillary role.

While her name might not immediately suggest it, Colleen Helm knows this firsthand. Enoteca, a new Italian wine bar in Big Sky Town Center serving rustic recipes passed down through the generations and delightfully interesting wines, is her way of showing and sharing it. If you’re not an Italophile yet, you just might be converted.

Helm, who also owns Vino Per Tutti wine store in Bozeman, has partnered with sommelier Don Jost and his wife, chef Jaclyn Krusniak-Jost who’s also a Big Sky native. They’ve translated their equally extensive appreciation for, and intimate knowledge of, the Italian culture into a cozy, chic place where others can experience it too.

Friends gather at Enoteca in Big Sky Town Center to share and sample the flavors of rustic Italian cuisine and fine, unique wines. PHOTO BY SARAH GIANELLI

Friends gather at Enoteca in Big Sky Town Center to share and sample the flavors of rustic Italian cuisine and fine, unique wines. PHOTO BY SARAH GIANELLI

The carefully curated menu was culled from Don Jost’s travels to Italy and house favorites from the “enoteca” (Italy’s generic term for wine bar) he owned and operated in San Francisco; and from Helm’s upbringing in a large, close-knit Sicilian family in Pennsylvania and years spent living abroad.

There were a few items that could not be overlooked. The baccalà for example, a traditional Italian dish of dried salt cod with many variations in preparation, is a favorite of both Jost’s and Helm’s. Enoteca’s rendition—whipped with potato into a light and lemony spread for crostini—is reminiscent of the first course Helm’s family would prepare for the Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve.

The stracotto di maiale—tender braised pork shoulder in a red sauce over creamy polenta—is Helm’s grandmother’s recipe.

“I’ve been eating that dish forever,” Helm said. “And making it since I was five.”

The menu wouldn’t be complete without homemade gnocchi. The women of Helm’s family would gather to make great batches of the labor-intensive semolina dumplings—for which every Italian family has a secret as to how to render them fluffy like pillows rather than doughy pellets of lead—and freeze for later use. At Enoteca, they are made fresh, pan sautéed and served in a rich, asiago mushroom cream sauce. Because the sauce will rotate, it is the only item on the menu not paired with a suggested wine.

The wine list is not strictly Italian but predominantly so and offers something for everyone. The less adventurous who want to stay within the tried and true will not be flustered; and the connoisseur is likely to gleefully discover something new. A handful of specialty beers and traditional Italian cocktails are also available.

The menu, both food and wine, is geared toward sharing and sampling. Midwinter, the menu is hearty and the “small plate” portions lean more toward medium, but it’s unlikely you’ll hear anyone complaining over too much orechiette (“little ear”) pasta with house-made rabbit sausage, broccolini and chili flakes.

What you won’t find on the Enoteca menu is American-style entrée options.

“There’s nothing I despise more than three things on a plate,” Helm said. “It enrages me. You get one thing—that’s how I eat at home; that’s how you eat in Italy. I built this because this is what I want—what I want to eat, how I want to eat, what I want to drink—and I want to show [people] why it’s the best.”

Enoteca is open daily from 3 to 10 p.m. in Big Sky Town Center with a limited menu served from 3 to 5 p.m. Visit bigskywinebar.com for more information.