Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Off the Vine

Last night, I went with some friends to the new-ish restaurant, Off the Vine. Another friend wanted a review, so I figured I would post it here also.

1 - 5 rating system, with 5 being the best.

Atmosphere: 2.5
It's the former Blue Water Grill space on Hampton at Columbia. Low-ish ceiling, or at least it seems that way with heavy beams in the structure. In addition to the dark brown beams/ceiling, the walls were painted a dark mustard, and the floor is a concrete slab. Decor was nice enough, if maybe a little sparse, but with a place that small, there's not a lot of room for elaborate decor. While we were there, there was a downpour outside and a table about six feet from us had to be moved because the ceiling was leaking. Since I am allergic to cigarette smoke, I was worried there would be a problem with smoking, since they allow it/have a bar area, but no one there smoked, or if there were smokers, I didn't notice it.

Drinks: 3.5
They had a very extensive wine list. You can get wines by the glass, half carafe, and bottle. They also had a decent assortment of beers and cocktails.

Food: 3
Braised Short Rib as starter: 1
Very small portion considering it was an $8 appetizer -- the meat itself was literally two bites. Meat was very tender. Served on top of a green risotto, which was pretty, but I have no idea what the flavor of the risotto was -- the menu says it was an Italian parsley risotto. Under the risotto was a sauce. On top of the risotto was a grouping of olives, mushrooms, and garlic. The olives did not go well with the dish. The sauce seemed like an attempt at a burgundy sauce, but it was bitter as if some ingredient in it had been burnt and did not taste good at all. The meal had a loooooong way to go to recover from this poor start.

Frisee salad: 3.5
I have never had a salad with a poached egg on it before, but it worked well. It was a hearty cold weather salad -- also had potatoes, red onions, pancetta, and cracked mustard vinaigrette on it. The greens were very fresh.

Roasted Beets salad: 3.5
Lots of good flavor. Well prepared. Nice presentation. Interesting/artistic colors. The goat cheese fondue, which served as the dressing, was especially good with the beets.

Andouille and crab gumbo: 4
This item is not on their online menu, but it's on their in-house menu because they just started offering it six days ago, according to our waiter. It comes with a generous number of substantially-sized andouille sausage chunks. Crab bits were more broken down and blended throughout. I had the 10 oz. bowl portion and I would definitely order it again.

Hanger steak: 4
This steak came with pomme frites and a creamed spinach; this is also is not on their online menu. I was concerned this steak was going to be tough, but it was very tender, flavorful, and the pan juices included underneath were a good choice. The creamed spinach (their menu refers to it as "melted" spinach) was very mild/delicate, and I think maybe if one were eating the steak alongside it may have been too delicate to go with that beefy steak, but on its own it was quite nice.

Devil's food cake with peanut butter center: 2
I was envisioning more of a lava style center, but it was more of a peanut butter-flavored cake in the middle of a dark chocolate flavored cake with a ganache poured over the top, garnished with whipped cream, mint leaf, and strawberry cut into a rose shape. This dish was not as exciting as I thought it was going to be -- the taste was rather drab. I should have gone with the meyer lemon cheesecake instead.

Portions: 2.5
Generally speaking, the portions were small-ish for the price, except when it came to the "large plates" menu items. This worked out great for me, but if feel like big portions, this is not the place to go. The hanger steak was the only item we ordered from the large plates section of the menu and it was a decent portion. They could have been a little more generous with the pomme frites, I think -- the portion looked like one potato's worth (not that one person really needs any more than that, but they are good for sharing). In looking at the other plates that were going around, it seemed the large plates were generally a good portion, though not huge/oversized.

Service: 2
I had what has to have been one of the most peculiar servers I have ever had wait on me. His mannerisms were very odd and his style distracting. He was usually on the spot with most things we needed, so his timing was not an issue, but he was just a one-off. I think he was going for an "elegant flourish" style of serving, but really ended up more in the "awkwardly over-trying" category. I didn't see other servers doing it, so I think it was just his thing. But I have to give him goody points because at the end of the meal, when he asked how we liked everything, I mentioned the bit about the braised short rib and without prompting, he took that off our bill.

Overall, I'd give the place a 3.5. They have improvements to make, but the food has promise/interest. I would go there again.

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