Wine Vault & Bistro - San Diego, CA

Dinner - Sunday, November 13, 2011

We've been regular customers and staunch supporters of the Wine Vault & Bistro ever since our first meal here, 16 months ago. The ever-present owners, Chris and Mary Gluck, organize terrific winemaker dinners featuring everyone from boutique producers all the way up to the Mondavis - Chris's focus is typically on moderately-priced wines with an excellent quality-to-price ratio. Appropriately enough, this philosophy is also strongly reflected in the food. For my money, the Wine Vault probably has the highest QPR of any restaurant in the city (very good 5-course menus run only $30!).

All of our prior meals here were under the care of the young KC Howland (previously of Cyrus). Unfortunately for San Diego, he completed a recent stage at noma and then relocated back to the Bay Area to take a position at Quince. His former sous chef, Ryan McCarthy is now in charge of the kitchen. At least from this meal, I could not tell the difference - KC's fingerprints were all over the menu. Hopefully, this is an indication that Ryan was "brought up" well, although I'd love to see him break out and bring more of his personal style to the dishes.

Wild mushroom escabeche
Burrata, red onion, baby lettuce, brown butter breadcrumbs
Diver scallop: bisque and tempura-fried
Coconut, vadouvan onion compote, coriander
Quite fantastic. I tend to be suspicious of tempura-fried anything, but the scallop cake was very nicely done. The cilantro added a terrific burst of vegetal flavour, and the compote was intense but still balanced.

Roast of Fall vegetables, braised Nueske bacon
Sunchoke soubise, Parmesan
I enjoyed the collection of roasted beets, golden beets, cauliflower and rutabaga - each one expressing a different texture and character. The smoky bacon was also delicious, but it tended to overwhelm the other components. Combined with the liberal shavings of Parmesan, it bludgeoned the sweetness of the vegetables into submission.

16-hour braised short ribs, cauliflower mousseline
Broccolini, toasted cauliflower gremolata
Roasted local swordfish, shelling beans
Jamon, baby celery, rosemary oil
There were some lapses in execution tonight, which we've noticed is a recurring problem when the house is packed for Sunday winemaker dinners (I suppose the perks of these dinners outweigh the minuses) - it is a challenge for any small kitchen to plate up for scores of diners simultaneously. Despite that, we saw potential, and will return shortly to sample Ryan McCarthy's food (and Chris and Mary's featured wines) on a quieter weeknight.

Wine Vault & Bistro
3731-A India St.
San Diego, CA 92013
Phone: (619) 295-3939