Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Wine Vault and Bistro - San Diego

The Vault is a Lock

Wine Vault and Bistro’s 5-course, tasting menu reinvents itself every Saturday for $30 (add an extra $20 for wine pairing) and has been kept under the radar for far too long. Maybe it’s because their menu can only be viewed though their mailing list or website updates, but that’s because it varies weekly.

And though they specialize in these constant, culinary, costume changes, there are no detours once you arrive for the Saturday night show. The stage is set and all control is handed to the kitchen, which can be quite liberating to find dinner being brought to the table without even ordering*:

Spice Crusted Beef Carpaccio | Mosto Cotto | Fennel | Pickled Grapes | Slyvetta Arugula – this raw protein, delicate as tissue paper and tearing as easily, brought the same joy as ripping into gifts on Christmas morning. Interesting accouterments like "mosto cotto" (grape musk = the syrup of the grape) accompanied each dish with a type of edible education.

Butternut Squash Bisque | Green Apple Fritter | Foie Gras Emulsion | Spiced Cream | Lemon Thyme – “Waiter, there’s something fly in my soup!” Apple fritters?! Now this was genius. And pouring the soup table-side only enhanced the excitement of knowing a winning prize lay at the bottom of this Crackerjack box - a treat within a treat.

Housemade Pappardelle Pasta | Wild Mushrooms | Pecorino | Guanciale | Truffle Froth | Poached Egg - As someone who prides herself on devouring every pork product known to man, I couldn't believe one had gotten past me. Guanciale (cured, pork cheeks) brought out the same, salty bond I felt toward its bacon brethren. My only complaint was that I wished I had a few more pieces of pasta - the two, lonely strands left me stranded when trying to sop up the yolk. Four would have been plenty and at no real extra cost to the kitchen.

Veal Loin | Crushed Potatoes | Braised Lobster Mushrooms | Tarragon Pistou | Braised Greens - Every component here was soaked with sodium and though I still reveled in each heavily seasoned bite, I understood how it might be overpowering for others. I think the braised greens were the main culprit, capturing the abundance of salt in its crudely, crocheted net.

Apple Crumble | Brown Butter Ice Cream | Blis Vanilla Maple Syrup - I'll definitely scream for this...and ask for a double scoop. Brown butter ice cream – who even knew that existed? Paired with a hot apple pie cocktail, this sweet ending brought an inner, autumn warmth that can only be gleaned from warm apples and after-dinner sipping (the setting also helped - outside seating was like hanging on someone’s porch. My two buddies, transplants from the east coast, kept saying, “This reminds me of back home.”)

Wine pairing
2007 Tobin James "Ballistic" Zinfandel
2008 Cass Grenache
2008 Foxen "Santa Maria Valley" Pinot Noir
2006 Chateau La Tour Figeac Bordeaux
Hot Apple Pie Cocktail

Our wiseman waiter not only knew his culinary contexts, but had the instinct to let us divide the wine between ourselves when bringing over the bottle to pair with each course (smart man, never get in between two lions fighting over a zebra).

Safe bet: Swallow some unexpected flavor, spit some fresh knowledge. Return for the next lesson as soon as possible (they also offer a 3-course tasting menu on Fridays for $20 and often host "wine maker dinners", featuring selected wineries to pair with menu items).

*they do ask if there are any food allergies before service.

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