Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Spill The Wine - Early Days

photos by Aaron Fenster

I hesitated about posting these first impressions of the new wine bar/ restaurant Spill the Wine, which opened three weeks ago. Back when I worked at the big paper, we had a rule that we wouldn't critically review a restaurant until it had been open for at least a month.
But then I realized - hey - I don't work at the big paper any more. This blog has a readership somewhere in the double digit range, so a frank discussion of the restaurant's strengths and weaknesses isn't likely to do much harm, and it might do some good. Within a couple more weeks, Rick and Kathie and Dara and Andrew, Peter, etc. are all likely to pay their visits, and this might be a useful wakeup call.
Actually, my very first impressions weren't bad at all. The dining room has old brick walls and original art and track lighting, and somehow captures the sleek urban sophistication of an art gallery. We each selected one of the wine flights, - three two-ounce tastings of selected wines, presented in a spiral metal holder, priced from $9 to $12 - no bargain, but a nice presentation, and decent wines.

Our starter, the garlic shrimp parcel, was a purse of fried wonton skin stuffed with baby shrimp and sauteed carrots, served on a bed of raspberry chili sauce. My companion noted that it was at its heart a Chinese eggroll ($10), taken apart and reassembled, but I still gave it high marks for creativity, and decent marks for flavor. I enjoyed the entree that followed - moist and flavorful free-range chicken beautifully presented, over roasted potatoes and grilled red onions ($15). Carol's ravioli stuffed with spinach and mozzarella ($14) might have been a factory product, but the fresh tomato basil sauce was lively and the combination satisfying.
On our second visit, things fell apart. Our wine took forever to arrive, and then we slowly realized that our server had forgotten our appetizer order of iron skillet mussels. We inquired, and our server at first told us that s/he had intended to bring everything out at once, then forthrightly acknowledged that s/he had forgotten it. By now, Carol's Caesar salad topped with fried calamari was sitting on the counter of the open kitchen, slowly getting cold, and we were getting grumpy. These kinds of mistakes can happen - I made plenty of them during my short career as a waiter.
Eventually, our courses arrived - first Carol's salad, then my "sampler flight" ($23), and finally the mussels. I expected black mussels, but these were the big green-lipped variety, typically imported frozen and cooked from New Zealand. Oddly, they were presented over a layer of under-baked wedges of pizza Margherita, which quickly became soggy as they sat in the pool of flavorful garlic and white wine broth. The Caesar salad was a bust - the croutons and dressing seemed to be the kind that come in a box and a bottle, and the cold morsels of calamari were more breading than seafood. My entree sampler offered generous portions of beef tenderloin, two jumbo seared scallops, and several big chunks of boneless chicken breast, all served over the same chunks of pan-roasted potatoes. (Ordered separately, these all have different accompaniments, and are given much more creative presentations).
Only two desserts were offered: cheesecake or vanilla ice cream, both served with raspberry sauce, but by then we were tired, and ready to go home.
Our bill arrived, served in a wine glass, with a small bookmark advertising Spill the Wine's prix fixe dinner special for Twin Cities Restaurant Week (a fundraiser for local libraries): three courses, including the beef tenderloin, and a glass of wine, for $35. If we had known at the start of our visit, I might have ordered it.
A later lunchtime visit produced mixed results - a terrific Cobb salad ($10), with generous chunks of flavorful roast chicken, fresh greens and crisp bacon, topped with slices of ripe avocado, plus an uninspired Greek pizza, topped with Kalamata olives, capers and feta.
All that said, I still think Spill the Wine has a lot of potential. But it had better get its act together soon - the critics are on their way.
Spill The Wine, 1101 Washington Ave. S., Minneapolis,, www.spillthewinerestaurant.com.
photos by Aaron Fenster

5 comments:

bill said...

This pre-review review idea is terrific. Let the kids from the big paper come along when they're ready, but you're allowing your stalwart readers to get a jump on new things, just as if we're insiders.

Hey, we read Igger's Digest. We ARE insiders!

dreakj said...

I’ve been twice and had a similar experience. We’ve been once for dinner and once for happy hour. For dinner we had the calamari and gnocchi which were both made well and delicious. We also split the beef which was served with a (mild) gorgonzola sauce, mashed potatoes and grilled veggies. It was cooked perfectly med-rare and we loved it. The issues we had were with service. It took us over 20 minutes to get our first drink, at least 10 minutes to get every subsequent drink each. Also, we ordered the caesar salad but they didn’t course it correctly and we got it with the beef so we sent it back (sounds like we made the right choice anyway!). Honestly, despite the bad service I had a great time and I always want to give new restaurants lots of time to figure thing out – but then when I went for happy hour it was even worse. There were at least 5 servers milling about appearing to do next to nothing but it still took us forever to get our drinks, were again left without drinks, and it took over 30 minutes (we timed it) to get our check. Despite all this – I’m going again this weekend. I think (and hope) that they will figure out the service end of things, because the location, food and ambience is so enjoyable!
Also - I am all for the pre-reviews too!!!

Red Pepper said...

I agree with your review and am very happy with you doing pre-reviews. Some folks hate it but this is the blogosphere - new world, new rules... or is that no rules??

Ewart said...

Allright. I've read some of your comments and feel that people are just too generous. We just got back from a terrible meal and aren't too pleased with this place. While I wish anybody well that accepts the huge risk of opening a restaurant the money I spend has to be met with something worthwhile. If the calamari and the ravioli we had tonight did not come straight from a SYSCO freezer than shame on the chef.
The following is a copy of an e-mail that I sent to "spill the wine".
Don’t be looking for us again any time soon. The food (the ravioli and the pork chop) was bad enough to make us forget about the horrible service.

I do not even know how to begin to describe the shortcomings of the food. After all I am only an appreciator of good cooking, not a chef myself. However, I do eat out, I cook at home and I do have some experience with the good, the bad and the ugly. Let’s just say that tonight I was hoping for a lot better than I got.

The utterly inept wait person and the dirty plates (no kidding) were only a further distraction from what was to be a pleasant evening out with family.

Pleasantries elude me, yours, Ewart

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