Vines Grille & Wine Bar on Orlando's Restaurant Row
The last time I reviewed Vines Grille & Wine Bar it was in a different location. And it wasn't called Vines Grille & Wine Bar.
Back then, in 2003, it had just opened with the name Woodstone Grille. I never got confirmation, but it was my assumption that a certain Stonewood Grill and Tavern took exception to the similar name. Even flipping the wood and the stone and adding an e onto grill wasn't enough to remove confusion in the minds of potention customers, or that's how I'm guessing the attorney's letter probably read. And it was bad enough that Restaurant Row already had Bonefish and FishBones, not to mention Moonfish, causing enough bafflement. (They still do.)
So it wasn't very long after it opened that Woodstone became Vines. It operated out of the small, narrow space in the Fountains Plaza strip that also holds Antonio's and Ayothaya Thai restaurant, and where Anaelle & Hugo's was a neighbor before that French restaurant closed and Jeffery's moved in.
When Jeffery's closed, Vines's owners saw an opportunity to move out of the claustrophobic confines and into a more spacious, not to mention elegant, venue.
Vines has several things that distinguish it, not the least of which is the decor. The restaurant occupies a large space that is reminiscent of an open loft. The bar slashes the lounge diagonally. Behind the bar is a boxed-in private dining room and the rest of the space is primarily the main dining area, with polished wood floors and brick walls (Woodstone Grille would have been a perfect name for this place!).
Dominating a large wall of the main dining room is a bank of flat-screen televisions that play only one thing: the lapping flames of a roaring fireplace. It's a stunning visual that would have looked chintzy if it had been just one tv screen but instead has a great wow factor with a row of three.
Another distinction is Vines's dedication to providing live entertainment, often provided by a jazz trio. The band is a bit cramped in the lounge, right behind the cable waterfall at the restaurant's entrance. Maybe they liked the crammed in feeling of the old place. But the music is easily heard throughout the restaurant, and there's nothing like live entertainment to set a mood.
And then there are the bar snacks to set Vines further apart from other area restaurants. It's quite a surprise to see a tall cone cup, the sort of holder one usually finds filled with bread sticks, stuffed with crispy rashers of bacon. Saltier than peanuts, I suppose, but maybe they should also have a bowl of Lipitor or Plavix on the counter.
On my first visit to Vines I dined in the main room. I sampled the onion soup ($9), a hearty bowl of beefy broth topped with stringy cheese. For my entree I had the braised beef short rib ($34), oh-so-tender meat that had long given up the bone, served with polenta infused with blue cheese and Brussels sprouts roasted with bacon. (They love bacon in this joint.)
On another visit, dining solo, I decided to make a feast of a couple of appetizers while sitting at the bar. I selected the steak tartare ($16) and seared day boat scallops ($14). The tartare looked as though it were a burger patty ready for the grill. It was surrounded by the usual accouterments, capers, onions, as well as hot sauce drizzled on the plate and a pile of salt. It was topped with a raw quail egg, cracked open and still in the shell. The bartender/server asked if I had ever had the tartare there before and I allowed as to how I had not. She made the suggestion that I blend everything together, the hot sauce and salt included, before eating. It was good advice. The meat was fresh tasting and delicious, and the salt and hot sauce added just the right flavor notes.
I wish the scallops had been half as good. The four scallops were so small that most day boats would have tossed them back. And they had been cooked so long as to become hard and rubbery. Nothing could save them.
Service was superb all around. The kitchen doesn't move with alacrity, but at least there's good music to listen to. Besides the wine list, which includes well over 20 selections by the glass, there is a full bar. I question the wisdom of the menu's prices in these times. With appetizers that reach $20 and steaks that climb to $46 ($65 for American Kobe), Vines apparently is going after the expense account trade. (Does anyone still have an expense account?)
Such splurges are hard to justify these days. But if you're celebrating something special, or you just want a fun night out with good food and music, Vines would be a good choice.