Restaurant Review: Vinted Wine Bar & Kitchen

 

Courtesy of Vinted Wine Bar & Kitchen

★★ [Very Good]

West Hartford’s Blue Back Square restaurant and shopping complex is bright, upscale and stylish, but there’s nothing mysterious about it. Open a door between two storefronts, however, and a frisson of magic enters the picture. You’re in a dusky cave crowded with people eating and drinking and having fun. Hanging lamps shed golden light. A futuristic stainless steel argon oxygen replacement system is delivering precisely measured pours of 68 fine wines by the glass. The music is indie rock. The menu, all small plates, is au courant comfort food with a fanciful twist. Or so my friends and I found it when we stopped in to review Vinted Wine Bar & Kitchen on a recent rainy night.

I say “stopped in” because Vinted doesn’t take reservations. You’re supposed to call 30 minutes ahead. We did and were seated promptly at a table that seemed large enough until we got into the drill. Sharing is encouraged, as is sampling flights of wine in one-, three- or six-ounce pours. And thanks to its high-tech preservation system Vinted is able to offer a “just poured” taste of some of the world’s great wines—68 in all. We chose to explore California pinot noirs—Laetitia (Central Coast), Davis Bynum (Sonoma), Paul Hobbs (Sonoma Coast) and Hartford Court (Russian River).

Pretty soon our tabletop was cluttered with platters, share plates and wine glasses, and we were bumping elbows in the airspace above it all. The staff did their cheerful best to cope and you could say, as we did, “the more the merrier when good friends get together.” But the situation might be iffy when entertaining out-of-town clients or your future mother-in-law.
We began with an impressive cheese plate: A tangy sheep’s milk manchego, a smooth, internally ripened, cow’s milk blue and a Parmigiano Reggiano aged 24 months, along with crisp-toasted raisin bread, pale green grapes and a piece of honeycomb artistically arranged on a slab of polished gray-blue slate. Miró on a platter.

The Treviso salad was also eye-pleasing and so poetically described it sparked a conversation. Along with red-ruffled radicchio, microgreens, charred Vidalia onions and 12-year-aged balsamic vinegar, the list of ingredients included “Scent of Alba Air.” What could that be? “Truffle oil,” one of my foodie guests suggested, and I quickly agreed, having gone on a truffle hunt years ago in a forest near Alba, an Italian town famous for white truffles and wine. Fond memories recalled truffle festivals and wine tastings, but all that aside, Vinted’s Treviso was exquisitely balanced and delicately refreshing, characteristics we especially appreciated as our meal progressed, demonstrating chef and co-owner Michael Presnal’s proclivity for rich, meaty dishes—barbecued short ribs, foie gras, veal cheeks with mushroom cream sauce—all of which we tried.

Some I adored. One or two played me false. Steak tartare, for example, arrived in a neat, rosy turret with dabs of mustard, microgreens, potato chips and a tiny soft-boiled quail egg in the shell. As we paused to admire the presentation, our waitress broke in to say, “what we suggest is that you pour the egg over the top and mix everything all together into a delicious mess.” We did so. Alas, the “mess” was overwhelmingly vinegary. It tasted as if the tiny pickled gherkins that in France are often served whole with steak tartare had been chopped and added, marring Vinted’s version, but whatever the cause, the raw beef flavor was obscured.

But Vinted’s exclusively small-plate menu presented plenty of alternatives. With categories for Veggies, Meat, Fish and Sweets, it makes no distinction between appetizers and entrées, so we did what everybody else was doing—ordered whatever struck our fancy.

We lucked out with Burrata “Sashimi,” the creamiest, most flavorful burrata cheese imaginable garnished with seaweed, microgreens, tomato and sliced avocado and seasoned with sea salt, wasabi and soy-lime-cilantro dressing.

Chef Presnal courts complexity, tossing lots of ingredients around with admirable skill. It works best when he focuses on a single meat, vegetable or fish. His sea scallops were splendid, tender, perfectly seared and delectably sweet. His barbecued short ribs, a falling-off-the-bone marvel of slow cooking, were delicious but also sweet. Paired as surf and turf, they added up to an off-putting amount of sweetness, especially with a mound of semisweet ginger slaw on the plate.

On the other hand, when veal cheeks were allowed to star on their own, robed in a heady morel mushroom cream sauce with only a few leek crisps alongside, they were ambrosial. Seared salmon with avocado jalapeño salsa, equally simple, was also a treat.

It’s easy to get carried away by the number of options on offer, but, having heard so much about it, we had to try Vinted’s famous McMuffin, which according to the menu included four of my favorite things—seared foie gras, caramelized onion, truffle cheese and short rib. Luxury upon luxury. How could I, how could anyone not fall in love with it? Unfortunately, we did not. The shredded short rib engulfed the foie gras, which was overcooked, and if truffle cheese was present it was sliced too thin to taste or smell. Maybe the kitchen was too busy that night, but you might want to skip the whole thing and go for a noble hunk of short rib braised in red wine with panzanella salad and Gorgonzola butter—with small pours of a couple of cabernets.

When it came time for dessert, I lusted for a macaroon ice cream sandwich that Vinted was supposedly famous for, but it was no longer on the menu. We settled for double-chocolate torte, which turned out to be a wafer-thin chocolate cookie spread with chocolate mousse and raspberry coulis, clever but less than luscious. Never mind, “Smores” were on the menu raising hopes for a glorious replay of fun around a campfire—toasting marshmallows and sandwiching them and a melting Hershey bar betwen two graham crackers. Oh, the gorgeous, gooey, deliciousness of this all-American-kid-again dessert. But not at Vinted, where “Smores” proved to be yet another sandwich of thin cookies spread with a film of mint Anglaise and a smear of marshmallow fluff. Both sandwiches were cut in triangles and presented standing on edge on squares of slate—like a mini Stonehenge. Arresting, yes; mouthwatering, no.  

But we had feasted on some pretty fabulous fare and there were still intriguing dishes we wanted to try: Vinted’s truffle-butter Parmesan risotto balls made famous at the restaurant’s sibling The Federal in Agawam, Mass; warm chicken liver mousse with crawfish bisque; Greek “Salad in a Jar”; mu shu duck spring rolls with lettuce cup, pickled radish, tangerine and hoisin sauce. Not to mention all those wines we’ve yet to sample. We’ll be back.

Vinted Wine Bar & Kitchen
63 Memorial Rd., West Hartford, 860/206-4648, vintedwinebar.com
Open for dinner Sunday 4 to 9, Monday through Wednesday till 10, Thursday till 11, Friday and Saturday till 12. Reservations accepted for 6 or more; others may call 30 minutes before arrival. Wheelchair access. Major credit cards. Price range: Small plates $4.95 to $17.95, desserts $4.25 to $6.95.

 

Restaurant Review: Vinted Wine Bar & Kitchen

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