The best views
What happens when a former steakhouse is purchased by a purveyor of fine wine and spirits? In the case of Whispering Vine Wine, you combine a sizable tapas menu with tasting flights of booze, then fill every available nook and cranny with bottles available for sale. Despite the upscale setting, I was far from being the most casually dressed patron. At least my shirt had a collar on it.
My group started with a small bowl of house-marinated olives that included a variety of sizes and colors, ranging from the largest—with a mild flavor and soft texture—to some small green spheres that had a lot more bite ($3). A matching piece of earthenware was provided for discarding the pits.
Next came hummus with papadum, a mash-up of Mediterranean and Indian cuisine ($5). The lentil cracker was perfectly crispy with more than enough flavor to stand on its own. Unfortunately, the hummus was underseasoned, seemingly devoid of tahini, and quite gritty in texture. I decided perhaps the chef purposely went for simple with the chickpea dip in order to highlight the excellent coriander, cumin and lentil flavors of the papadum.
Similarly, my wife’s grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup ($9) was almost—but not quite—great. The soup was extremely good, bursting with the aroma and flavors of fresh tomato and just enough seasoning. But the sandwich of Irish cheddar, gouda, and caramelized onion—melted into rustic baguette slices—was very small and surprisingly bland. The result was a bit disappointing and perhaps overpriced.
A piping hot serving of lobster mac and cheese ($13) was probably everyone’s favorite dish of the evening. The cheese sauce was very smooth and creamy, with just a hint of herbs allowing the lobster flavor to shine through. Paired with plenty of tender pasta, this is a dish I’d request as part of my last meal.
In contrast with the cheesy goodness, escargot with cognac and garlic ($10) was definitely our least favorite plate of the evening. The gastropods arrived bubbling in a traditional six-pocket crock, cooked to the proper mushroom-like texture without being chewy. Sadly, the main flavor was of bitter, almost-burnt garlic, and if cognac had been part of the process it was doing its best to stay hidden.
A pair of braised bison short rib sliders with gorgonzola and slaw on pretzel buns brought things back into focus ($13). The shredded, lean meat was tender and plentiful, with the veg and cheese doing their part to bring it all together. Even the roll was above-average, and receiving them pre-cut into halves made it easy for our party of four to make them disappear.
I love me some fungus, and the wild mushroom flatbread did not disappoint ($13). An eight-inch oval of crispy, thin bread was covered in a sherry mascarpone cream with caramelized onion, arugula, and a mix of maitake and yellow foot mushrooms. Sliced into several wedges, it was essentially an extremely fancy pizza. I made sure to raise a pinky while gobbling it down.
Perhaps the best deal of the night was the New England lobster roll with fingerling potato chips ($13). The bun itself looked like a small loaf of bread, baked golden brown with a consistency akin to a classic dinner roll. The top was sliced open and stuffed with a generous portion of well-executed lobster salad—flavors of dill and celery accenting the seafood just right. An oversized stack of warm, lightly salted chips had that particular flavor that tells you they came straight from the fryer. Delicious.
It was a Tuesday night and yet the place was packed, making it all the more impressive how fast, friendly and efficient the service was. We were in the bar area, but there is seating throughout the retail space, a side room for special events, and an outdoor patio for warmer months. Not to mention some of the best views of our biggest little city.