In a recent article in the Orlando Sentinel, staff writer Kyle Arnold noted that some of Greater Orlando's bedroom communities are bemoaning a dearth of good places to dine. The article was headlined "Some cities ask: Where are our restaurants?"
I propose a followup article: "Restaurateurs ask: Why don't you people who complain about not having good restaurants in your community support them when they open?"
I may need to work on the headline.
But take a look at one of Arnold's example cities, Oviedo. Then consider South + York, the charmingly creative farm to table restaurant that was critically acclaimed but closed after only 13 months. By rights, the community should have embraced this business and encouraged its survival with its patronage.
But then there's Sushi Pop, a wildly popular restaurant that was also cited in the story, which has been doing so well that it is expanding its opening hours.
Which brings us to DeVine Wine & Grill, also mentioned in the article, a new restaurant that I had coincidentally visited just a few days beforehand. DeVine is new, and time will tell whether it will go the way of South + York or be Sushi Popular. I'm guessing its the latter.
That isn't because the quality of the food at DeVine is better than S+Y's was, though it has a couple of bright spots on the menu. It's that DeVine offers a dining experience that is more in line with what diners today want. They want casual, but they don't want that to equate to a lesser quality of food. That has certainly worked for Sushi Pop.
Let me get my biggest niggle of DeVine Wine & Grill out of the way. It has to do with the wine part of the equation. DeVine has installed banks of those Enomatic wine devices that allow guests to dispense their own glass of wine using a special credit card with a magnetic strip. I don't find these machines entirely loathsome. They at least allow someone to draw small amounts of a wine rather than committing to a full pour, and they allow a restaurant to offer a larger selection of wines by the glass since the stopper devices that draw the juice out of the bottles prevents air from degrading the wine as quickly.
It's those damn credit cards. DeVine charges guests three bucks just to get one of the cards. (Personally, I'd give them away with a couple of dollars already installed as a grand opening scheme to get more people to come in.) Then you have to have money placed on the card, which is usually more than you'll use on that visit. The card is reusable, but if you don't come back the restaurant keeps the extra money on the card. And don't get me started on the get-up-and-serve-yourself aspect.
Not all the wines offered at DeVine are through this system, but all of the good ones are. I ordered a beer.
DeVine's food menu, from chef Michael Sorenson, features small plates, another trend that diners are embracing.
My dinner companions and I started with a frighteningly large bowl of shishito chiles, flash-fried and sprinkled with sea salt. The mild flavored peppers could have used a little more seasoning, beyond the cross sections of limes provided. There were a lot of them, but $6 for a bowl of chilies is a bit much.
We liked the duck Cuban flatbread ($12), a creative twist on a Cuban sandwich with confit, dill pickle relish and gruyere on a thin crust. Not an exact Cuban replication, but there were certainly some familiar flavors.
The seared scallops ($15) were excellent, served with a fresh corn salsa and corn puree, spiced with a bit of red pepper.
The Gulf shrimp dish ($15) was good, too. It isn't called shrimp and grits here — polenta stands in for the grits — but the result is simliar.
And the roasted beet salad ($9), with frilly greens, candied pecans and smoked blue cheese, satisfied as well.
Only a lamb dish ($14) disappointed. The meat was tough and chewy.
DeVine's casualness includes many hightop tables. Unfortunately, most of them are in the center of the room with booths ringing the room. My guests and I were seated at a booth, so we could only see the tables next to us.
The atmosphere is boisterous when full, and the decor is more rustic than upscale.
Is that what you're looking for, Oviedo? Then get out and support your local restaurants.
DeVine Wine & Grill is at 15 Alafaya Woods Blvd., Oviedo. It is open for lunch on weekends and dinner daily. The phone number is 407-359-5016.