Dining Out: Wine Vault and Bistro, Mardi Gras

March 9, 2011

Wine Vault and Bistro is a quaint little restaurant located on India Street snug next to Shakespeare’s Pub. They offer $20 prix fixe 3 to 5-course meals of fine dining fare, and the menu changes weekly, if not daily. Diners may also elect wine pairings to accompany each course for an additional $10.

B and I have been waiting months to give this place a run, poring over the email newsletters detailing the upcoming specials. When we received notice of a 10-course tasting menu for Mardi Gras that included fried oysters and espresso-filled beignets, we knew instantly that this was our night. As soon as we called in our reservations, another newsletter came out saying the night had been completely booked. Score.

First and Second Courses:
Asparagus “benedict” – biscuit – bearnaise – poached egg – bacon jam
Pickled apricot – hazelnut – creme fraiche – watercress
abita amber lager
Seeing as poached eggs are my latest obsession, I was slightly disappointed to find scant chopped egg white garnishing my biscuit, but the consumate flavor composition of the first course redeemed any faltering initial impressions. Additionally, I am slowly converting to the magical ways of bacon, and the bacon jam was one strong argument in favor of cured pork.

Upon first glance, the pickled apricot resembled a tiny piece of salmon sashimi, and I almost wish it had been. It had an interesting taste with quite a bit of nuttiness coming in from the crushed hazelnut, but I would have liked the creme fraiche to have a greater presence.

Third and Fourth Courses:
Shrimp “po boy” – braised lettuce – hot sauce “mayo” – pickles – crostini
Dungeness crab cake – creole mustard aioli – pickled pepper relish
2008 halter ranch “ranch white” rhone white blend
I was heartbroken at first to find that the fried oyster had been replaced by shrimp, but the shrimp was so perfectly cooked, I could not hold my grudge for long. It was steaming hot, succulent, and the batter was light and crispy. The singular pickle slice was an ideal component, and the crostini was neither too hard or dry as crostinis are apt to be.

The crab cake was pretty substantial relative to the other portions we had been served, but I found it to be overly salty and the mustard aioli did not provide much balance. I think more of the pepper relish would have done well to create a better symphony of flavors.

Fifth and Sixth Courses:
Gumbo – crispy braised pork – micro celery
Andouille sausage – black eyed peas – okra
2008 sextant “wheelhouse” zinfandel
I felt this was the most lackluster part of the evening. The gumbo had a strong, chemical-ly flavor that we could not place. Be it spice, herb, or hm?, it was too great a barrier to overcome. I was impressed though that the braised pork managed to stay crispy even when submerged in the soup.

Sausage, black eyed peas, and okra. Meh. The flavors were standard and severely lacking. I would not think to eat it again.

Seventh and Eighth Courses:
Charred strip loin – red beans ‘n’ rice – onion chutney – fried broccolini
Braised short ribs – farro – goat cheese – smoked paprika chimichurri
2006 saddleback cellars merlot
For the most part, I have a personal dislike for braised short ribs. No hard feelings, it simply is not a flavor my palate enjoys. That said, the eighth course did not present any sort of culinary epiphany, but the meat was incredibly tender and the chimichurri provided a good dose of acidity. Unfortunately, the goat cheese was pureed and so subtle, it was unnoticeable even after we inquired with our waiter as to where it had been infused.

The strip, on the other hand, was my favorite of the savory courses. It was grilled to an absolutely perfect medium rare (I do wish it had a bit more char) and together with the bright flavors of the onion chutney, formed a delectable pair. The texture of the fried broccolini was sheer genius and took the dish to a revelatory level. B and I took our composed bites and just stared at each other with wide eyes. Ohmygod.

Ninth and Tenth Courses:
Brioche beignet – espresso ganache – steamed milk
Cappuccino truffle
cafe brulot diabolique (devilishly burnt coffee)
In a Would You Rather… contest between eating only sweet or salty foods for the rest of my life, I would hands-down choose salty any day. I can appreciate a good dessert, but generally my cravings err on the side of savory (unless we’re talking doughnuts). These courses though, made me want to take back the whole meal, and eat the dessert over and over again. The mini beignet was served in a bowl of sweet milk foam, and when I cut into it with my spoon, rich espresso ganache oozed everywhere to my utmost delight. The flavors were unmistakable and lost me in a realm of sugary ecstasy. My only regret is not licking the bowl.

The cappuccino bon bon was not as conceptually clever but equally delicious. As someone who drinks their coffee black, the cafe diabolique, though reminiscent of the amazing Berber coffee I guzzled in Morocco, was too sweet for my taste.

Admittedly, I was wary of the whole fine dining, prix fixe novelty after our experience at Relate, but inspite of my skepticism, Wine Vault and Bistro still managed to blow my expectations out of the water. The simple black and white decor was understated yet still representative of a fine dining establishment, and the candlelit ambiance lent an air of elegance. The wait staff were attentive without crowding, and even occasionally checked to ensure the temperature of the heat lamp next to our table was not uncomfortable. And the food…oh, the food. It was exquisite, well-executed, and I am still mentally raving about the flavors. B and I enjoyed a wonderfully tasty evening, and are already planning our next meal back.


One Response to “Dining Out: Wine Vault and Bistro, Mardi Gras”

  1. Si Says:

    You are such a foodie these days:)

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