The Hidden Vine Wine Bar and Lounge, Newington, CT

Before you read, sorry about the photos. We forgot the camera and only had a phone.

Dining out is a gamble, a risk, a roll of the dice. There is a cost involved, and these days it's getting harder and harder to find that extra money to do extra things with. That's why we love to take advantage of Groupon, Living Social, and other discount offers, because we love to go out to eat. Usually these don't cover the entire check, however, so the remaining balance is where we place our bet: will the meal be an excellent one or not?

Those truly amazing, and therefore memorable, dining experiences are like winning the jackpot. But that doesn't happen as often as we'd like. Typically, the answer is something in between: not amazing, not awful, but just good enough. That's what we got at The Hidden Vine Wine Bar and Lounge in Newington. The Groupon offer was $20 for $40 worth of food and drink. We had been at a late afternoon meeting in nearby Wethersfield, so figured we'd go ahead and make a night of it.

"Hidden" is a fitting name for this cute restaurant; although the address is on Main Street, it is located in the back of the building facing the back parking lot. There is a patio that must be great in the summer, and the interior space is warm and cozy, with decorations inspired by the wine theme. We were led to a small table and our smiling server brought us a basket filled with bread knots. There was olive oil for dipping already on the table; it was very light and not particularly flavorful but a little salt and pepper helped.

Bread knots

The menu consists of five basic categories (appetizers, bruschetta, paninis, salads and entrees). In each section, one can find typical Italian fare such as fried calamari, Caesar salad, and chicken marsala. However, there are also some surprising offerings as well, like gorgonzola stuffed dates, roasted beet salad, and homemade gnocchi a la cognac. And then there were the night's specials which were the most intriguing.

Since we were having an Italian meal, we had hoped to share a bottle of Montepulciano, but they were out, so we let the server suggest a Malbec that was comparable in price and while it wasn't great, it was good enough. We then ordered the night's special appetizer, arancini. Six small lightly-breaded-then-fried balls of risotto were delivered on a plate coated in a gorgonzola sauce that was drizzled with balsamic glaze. The sauce was creamy and velvety, with the balsamic offering a much needed acidic balance. Overall, it was a decent start to the meal.

More risotto may seem redundant, but the chicken francaise, served with risotto and a sundried-tomato caper butter sauce sounded good to Amy. The batter was eggy and light but the chicken breast itself was slightly overcooked and therefore was rubbery. The medium-sized scoop of risotto was the star of the plate, cooked al dente and with plenty of tangy, salty parmesan cheese. The sundried tomatoes were cut too large and overpowered most bites, so most of them ended up left on the plate. And we could have done with either the squash or the asparagus - both was overkill.

Chicken Francaise

Since Amy doesn't eat much fish other than shellfish, the night's special fish dish immediately attracted Chris; it was wild striped bass served with mussels and bay scallops in a tangy tomato brodo. The bass was cooked just right, and was light and flaky. Bay scallops, however, being so small, are easy to overcook, which many of them unfortunately were. The broth was deliciously flavorful, though, and there was plenty left to be sopped up with those buttery bread knots.

Striped Bass in tomato brodo

There were ups and downs, and overall, the meal, like the wine, while not excellent, was good enough. Nonetheless, in this economy, we're reminded of that typical teacher adage: good enough never is.

The Hidden Vine Wine Bar & Bistro on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

Jocie's Mom said...

Ho hum. I'm always more than a little disappointed when my meal isn't outstanding. I mean, that's their job. That's what restaurants do...cook food all day. It should be good, otherwise why am I paying for it? If its a convenience then, I can just go to Sonic or Arbys or something. At least it was 'good enough.' Maybe the next one will be something extraordinary!