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