Thursday, March 19, 2009

Safe haven

Attractive wine bar proffers predictability to suburbanites

Posted on Thu, Mar 19, 2009 at 4:00 AM

For many foodies, Lake Mary's Colonial TownPark offers a culinary dead end, a place where homogeneity meets the uninspired, but a place that suburbanites flock to nonetheless. That's not to say the food inside the entertainment complex is bad, but there's an cookie-cutter approach to many restaurants here, and the Vineyard Wine Company falls into that category. The appellation of the wine bar'bistro'bottle shop doesn't exactly scream originality, and the fact that it sits across from 'The Coffee Caféâ?� underscores the argument. A place for intrepid or adventurous diners it's not ' though if you're the type to judge quality by the way dishes are plated, VWC more than holds its own.

The cutesy star-shaped dish flaunting warm 'drunken bruschettaâ?� crostinis ($7.95) was outdone only by the puzzle-piece plates that held orbs of 'jumboâ?� lump crab cakes ($13.95). And like their serving contrivance, the toastettes were stellar tapas items that held up under the weight of vine-ripe tomatoes, goat cheese and a liberal balsamic drizzle. The crab cakes weren't jumbo in the least, but the meaty pan-seared rounds were given a Southern kick with the addition of roasted corn, bell peppers, caramelized onions and a Cajun remoulade.

Mains comprising a selection of beef, poultry and seafood courses are available, but the wide-ranging tapas menu proves most popular with regulars, most of whom pair those items with a selection from the extensive wine list. An option for 3-ounce pours allows for great variety with your meal without the inconvenience of utter inebriation. There's no doubt that wine is taken seriously here, and sommelier Fidel Palenzuela may just stop by your table to lend his expertise. I enjoyed a glass of the Rutz Sonoma Cuvee Pinot Noir ($4.49) with some toasted beef-filled ravioli ($7.95) ' that is, until I dipped the crisp bite-sized pasta bits into a pomodoro sauce of cloying sweetness. I can understand adding a little sugar to offset the tomatoes' astringency, but this sauce was ridiculously sweet and practically inedible. The hummus trio ($5.50) was as insipid as the pomodoro was sweet ' the kalamata pesto was a timid mush; the roasted garlic lacked any zest; and the sundried tomato, humdrum at best. None of the three, unfortunately, were worthy of the pillowy-soft pita bread. Greek chicken kebabs ($6.95), featuring a quartet of corpulent, lemony chunks with an accompanying dish of tzatziki sauce, were satisfying, but nothing to Opa! about, even when enjoyed with a glass of delicate Dr. Loosen Riesling ($4.49).

Just as tame were the two desserts we sampled. Romanoff strawberry butter crepes ($5.95) were sauced nicely, but the hotcakes were overcooked; the praline-chocolate mousse cake and lemon-blueberry roulade in the 'night and dayâ?� ($6.95) made for unremarkable endings.

Vineyard's inviting space is an attractive assemblage of Floribbean stylings with touches from Ethan Allen, and it possesses the primary characteristics of an ideal first-date locale: It's eye-catching, predictable and safe.

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