Review by Jerry L. Nelson
Not since Christmas when I was ten years old have I been filled with as much anticipation....as much glee…as much excitement as any young boy from South Central Texas can be when he is anticipating getting his very own .22 caliber rifle. I would be the master of the family farm. There would not be a rabbit safe from Dead Eye Dick. I would bring down droves of doves on the wing. Had there been a moose in my yard, it, too, would have fallen prey to my hunting prowess. I watched my father carry in a long, slender, wrapped package and place it under the tree some days before the big event. Ralphie had nothing on me for this was to be my best Christmas ever. Alas, the only thing that rained downed from the skies were the tears of my disappointment, for the package I so hoped would be mine went, instead, to my mother. What on earth did she want with a .22? Well, it turned out to be a knitting machine. My mother loved to knit and my father thought he was doing her a favor in getting her the latest design on the market to speed her along. Oh brother, did he blow it, big time. You see, my mother liked to knit for the sheer pleasure of the act itself…needles click-clacking away. Any by-product in the form of sweaters, socks, mittens and scarves that emerged as a result of her pleasurable relaxation was looked on by her as a plus…and believe me, we had our share of pluses. There is still one hanging in my closet today, nearly fifty years later. That knitting machine sat in a closet for nearly thirty years, used only once until sold at a garage sale where the knitter netted maybe twenty dollars. Sorry Pops, you would have done better had you bought me the .22 I hoped for. But I digress.
Once again, I was filled with anticipation…glee…excitement; for I was in Bulverde, Texas and was about to dine at a restaurant cheffed by a real CIA graduate. Chef/Owner Scott Dunlap and his lovely companion, Mia Phouvanh, are the proprietors of the Vintage Wine and Coffee Bar located at 2295-3 Bulverde Road about one mile west of U. S. 281. Chef Scott has been the owner of the Vintage, a local landmark, for some months now and by this point should have turned the menu into his signature. I felt like Herbert Lom in “Return of the Pink Panther”. I was beginning to twitch with giddiness. What delights awaited me and Friend? What refinement was lurking just beneath the napkins? Oh, would the residents of the area no longer be forced to drive all the way into San Antonio to get something more than chicken fried steak.
Friend and I got there early, not wanting to miss out on one second of dining ecstasy. Mai greeted us warmly as we entered. The interior is a mix of styles from the South American Coffee sacks that hang from the rafters to walls spotted with photos of stars and starlets from years, no, make that generations past…and it works. Add to this the rustic tub chairs at many of the tables and you settle in comfortably where you are served by a very friendly “Charity”. She is bright and full of smiles for the evening, even when you can’t make up your mind.
Friend and I opted for a small cheese tray for two as an appetizer with added sausage ($15 with the sausage, $12 without.) Let me go on record right now…this is deception at its worst. This tray could easily feed four or five. The cheeses, gruyere, blue, goat with pine nuts and parsley and a brie were very pleasant…the accompanying grapes and olives added to the flavor explosion. There was plenty to go around. The only drawback is the bread he chooses to serve. For this offering, a crusty bagget would be better received…but, overall, very nice. Add to the cheese tray a very nice Sauvignon Blanc for me and a Cotes du’ Rhone for Friend and we were off to a great start. Decision time. What were we going to have for the entrée?
I spotted the special on the chalk board as we entered earlier…a three cheese tortellini with chicken and smoked duck in a basil cream sauce plus dessert for $22…a fair deal. Friend was hankerin’ for some chicken and selected the grilled chicken breast with roasted veggies ($18), a dish that is becoming rather standard in restaurants these days…still a good choice. But first I had to have a bowl of the Broccoli Cream soup. Now it was explained to me by Charity this was not the thick, creamy style but more on the broth side in regard to viscosity. It was a hit. Just the right “soupiness” and the flavor was spot on although the texture of the broccoli just crossed the line regarding mushiness. Friend had the house salad dressed with Balsamic and commented on the “rightness” of the dressing job…not something every place gets right. This one did.
We should have stopped right there.
I was told, after asking, the Vintage does not make their own tortellini, rather “someone else” makes it for them. This should have been a clue. I could do as well with the dried product available at the local market. Perhaps that’s where he got it, or from his food service company. The “three” cheeses did nothing for the flavor and the pasta texture was overly tough, as was his mushroom ravioli tried on a previous visit. That one, Mai informed me, was made on site. (You may think it not fair to impart my opinion on the ravioli since we didn’t have it this visit but it simply was not good when I did order it and I feel the need to pass it on). Chicken chunks are chicken chunks and were acceptable. The smoked duck reminded me of nothing more than smoked ham and had the same texture…as well as being very dry. On the entire, this dish reminded me of a very average Pasta Carbanara with not enough of the Basil Cream sauce…a major disappointment by one from the CIA. I could have had a better dish from Johnny Carino’s.
Friend’s grilled chicken was nothing more than “griddled” chicken…the kind you get when you pound a breast out to insure even cooking and then place a heavy weight on it so it doesn’t curl while on the griddle…not a grill mark in sight, plus it was dry, not moist as he was assured it would be, one of the reasons Friend ordered it. George Foreman could have done a better job. He did like the four snow peas that came with it, though…but that’s about it.
Time for dessert. I’m a key lime pie kind of guy and this offering did not disappoint. In fact, the filling was almost translucent in it’s nature and even Friend liked the “pucker” quotient. He was disappointed in what heating it a bit did to the graham crust…made it a bit soggy. I didn’t mind.
As I mentioned earlier, the price for my special was supposed to be $22 which included dessert. As it was, the items were separated out and I was charged individually for the entrée and the dessert…a difference of only one dollar more, but when an establishment lets little things like this get under the radar, what can the paying public expect when it comes to the more important issues?
On total for the evening, it can best be described as a “wash”. The major disappointment was that a graduate of the CIA has not yet really put his mark on his restaurant. The décor is left over from the previous owner and some of the menu items seem to be carryovers. The wine list is very good and the place does have a following among the locals. Scott came out front and greeted several tables as old friends. He never stopped by our table. It reminds me of that Christmas so long ago…enough good things to offset the disappointments…but that one great thing anticipated was just not there. Here’s hoping he finds that special something. I’m tired of driving to SA.
P.S. Dory, you’re next. I promise.