After reading some nice things online about The Vine Bar in Lutz, my better half and I decided to take a drive this afternoon to check it out for a light, early dinner. The restaurant is located in a strip mall (which I was not expecting), but they appear to be doing all they can with what they have to work with. Although it overlooked the parking lot, the outdoor patio was actually pretty charming and inviting with its lovely arrangement of foliage, umbrellas and cute cafe tables.
The interior is very nice and is loaded up with granite (or maybe Silestone) tabletops, wood, bricks and glass. It was cozy and dimly lit even at 4:00 PM, and my first thought was "what a great 'date' place". Again, we arrived just after they opened on a Sunday afternoon, so don't let all the empty tables give you the wrong impression.
We wanted to try several things, so we focused on the Appetizer/Tapas menu. The first offering was Parmesan Scallops, which were served atop a Butternut Squash Cake with Sauteed Mushrooms, Spinach and Vanilla Bean Beurre blanc ($11). I loved this plate. The two scallops were absolutely huge and perfectly seared with a light parmesan crust...and that squash cake with sauteed fresh spinach and mushrooms almost made vegetarianism seem appealing. It was a fantastic complement to the scallops and sooo tasty!
Similarly, I found the Tempura Shrimp with Napa Cabbage Kim-Chee, Slice Fuji Apples and Sweet Spicy Mayo to be very nicely done. The shrimp were large and crispy, and were lightly coated with the sweet and spicy mayo. The kim-chee added some interesting heat, while the sweet apple slices cooled things down a bit.
I had been looking forward to trying The Vine Bar's Lobster and Crab Cheesecake, so I was somewhat bummed when I learned that they had sold out of it over the weekend. Since a dinner without crab is like a day without sunshine, we defaulted to the homemade Vine Chips with Goat Cheese and Crab Dip for my crustacean fix. I enjoyed this appetizer even though the dip was not what I was expecting (it was very light, creamy and cold...not a warm and chunky dip). The crab flavor was definitely there, although the dip itself was very homogenous and lacking any discernible bits of Crusty. The homemade chips were hot, crisp and perfect. Underdog didn't really feel the love for this one (not "crabby" enough), so I got to snarf the majority of it on my own.
Since charcuterie is UD's "crab", he selected the Artisinal Cheese and Meat Plate for Two. It was listed on the menu as Proscuitto Di Parma, Genoa Salami, Sopressata and Spanish Chorizo with a Choice of Three Cheeses and Olives, Seasonal Fruit and Crostini ($12). As it turned out, we didn't have a choice of cheeses...Swiss, Brie and one other I can't remember (maybe Manchego) were the only offerings. Still, it was a generous serving and everything on it was fresh enjoyable...although, I must say it's not the most interesting plating I've ever seen on a menu item of its kind.
We decided to try one more small plate before dessert and opted for the Baby Back Ribs with House Dry Rub and Sweet Chili Sauce. This was the only thing we ordered that we were both unimpressed with. The ribs were virtually tasteless and the meat had been cooked to mush (obviously baked in an oven). Most of it was taken away uneaten.
Since I can never pass up bread pudding and UD can never pass up creme brulee, it was a two-dessert evening as both were on the menu. The bread pudding described on the menu was Macadamia Bread Pudding with Jack Daniel's Creme Anglaise and Vanilla Ice Cream. What appeared was a fine bread pudding of a manageable size. It was dense and moist, just as God intended. I didn't really taste any macadamia, nor did I get any ice cream. I also thought someone was a little stingy with the whiskey custard sauce. Nonetheless, I enjoyed it.
Dogboy thought his Vanilla Creme Brulee was some of the best he's ever had (and trust me...he's had his share!). It was perfectly sweet, dreamily creamy, and covered in an immaculate caramelized sugar topping. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that fresh vanilla bean was used to flavor this decadent concoction as opposed to vanilla extract. It was top-notch.
We had a nice time at The Vine Bar, overall. With five $10 glasses of wine, the tab came to $115. While I felt like there might have been a tiny bit of recycling from the weekend going on (particularly with the ribs and the bread pudding), perhaps that is to be expected on a Sunday. Service was attentive and professional without being overbearing and I liked the choice of wines by the glass. Enjoyable.