Vyne is fancy. It is housed within the high-end furnishing store Middlebury Consignment and has an in-house sommelier and marble tabletops in its dining room. Prices are not low. As my wife and I settle into our seats, I am expecting a meal with delicate, small portions. I envision dishes short on food but long on artistic flourishes. Edible sculptures with ingredients chosen more to show the skill and creativity of the chef than for flavor — a cooking equivalent of a guitarist playing a fast lick that doesn’t serve the melody but does show how fast the musician can play.
This is not what I find at Vyne.
Instead, the food is big-portioned, bold-flavored, in-your-face classic Italian cuisine, with Greek and American influences. The kind of food I grew up eating. The kind for which I have a near-constant craving.
The wood-fired lamb lollipops are perfectly cooked and served on a bed of mint pistachio pesto, baby arugula, feta and Kalamata olives. The baked rigatoni — also wood-fired — is a decadent assortment of melted mozzarella, sausage from Waterbury’s La Molisana Sausage, cream, wild mushrooms and pasta. As an added bonus, the generous portion is a bargain for $24.
Michael Trudeau, the restaurant’s executive chef and a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, explains via email that the kitchen’s wood-burning oven gives many dishes a smoky flavor that helps define them. “Using a mix of oak and maple, we can get the oven up to about 800 degrees, but we like to regulate the fire to about 600 degrees,” he says. “Artisan pizzas get an incredibly crisp and flavorful crust from the intense, dry heat and our outrageous chicken wings get a smoky, crusted glaze that is one of a kind.”
Vyne opened last July. Prior to that, Middlebury Consignment had housed a small cafe that focused initially on lunch before offering dinner a few days a week. Jason Van Stone, the restaurant’s marketing director, says by 2017 it was clear they needed an expanded concept to meet demand. “The change in appearance of the space is night and day,” Van Stone writes in an email. “What was once a small and cozy cafe and what felt like a friend’s kitchen table has turned into much larger and brighter space with clear influences of Manhattan.”
They call the restaurant’s layout “New England chic.” It’s a term that fits with those marble tables in the dining room and the sophisticated bar area. Thankfully unchanged from the original cafe is the striking outdoor patio, which has sculptures and a waterfall fountain, and where I look forward to dining on a return visit.
But enough about appearance, let’s get back to the food. Vyne has an extensive menu ranging from pizza to steak and seafood options. I only scratch the surface of the restaurant’s offerings but am eager to explore more.
In addition to the lamb lollipops, the shrimp scampi appetizer is a standout. It comes with strips of garlic baguette for dipping and has a garlic, butter and white wine sauce with roasted red tomatoes. It is as flavorful as any examples of this dish I’ve had. Also good but less irresistible is the sausage and broccoli rabe and the Blue Point oysters.
The chicken parmigiana entrée is another highlight and, at $24 like the rigatoni, is a great deal considering portion size. The panko-crusted chicken is topped with wood-fired plum tomato sauce and is served over a bed of rigatoni. Such a classic and straightforward dish can sometimes be hard to get right. Vyne gets it right.
The desserts prepared by pastry chef Kevin MacPherson are also a strength. The affogato, an Italian classic consisting of a shot of espresso poured over a scoop of ice cream, is a perfect complement to the meal. Another good dessert is the crème brûlée, with Vyne’s version particularly thick in consistency. As with the main courses, portion sizes are generous.
I enjoy the type of delicate, small-portioned meals referenced at the beginning of this review. But too often I find myself wishing for more of whatever was ordered, or that I could share some with the table without feeling like I only have a morsel for myself. Given the choice between quality and quantity, I’d always choose quality, but it’s nice when you find a place that offers both.
Vyne Restaurant & Bar
1365 Whittemore Road, Middlebury
Price range: Appetizers $9-$24, entrées $21-$50,
raw bar $11-$36, desserts $11
Hours: Sun & Tue.-Thu. 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.,
Fri. & Sat. 11:30 a.m.-midnight. Closed Mon.
AMBIANCE Fancy but not stuffy. Housed within Middlebury Consignment, Vyne has a carpeted dining area with marble tables, a more casual but still swanky bar room, and a charming outdoor dining area with a waterfall fountain. It’s a great date destination, but is also family friendly.
SERVICE Attentive and helpful. Drinks are refilled quickly and various menu items are described accurately.
FOOD Big-portioned, classic, Italian-style cuisine with rich flavors. One entrée could probably feed two people (and I don’t say that lightly). You’ll eat more than you should, but won’t regret it.