Saturday night in Orlando, in the touristy part of town is usually an awful travel time. Other than seeing a lot of police presence on the way home, it wasn’t that bad. This Labor Day was unusually quiet on the roads for me. I got to my destination, Vines Grille and Wine Bar, with a little time to spare for my reservation. Like another venue, I was contacted earlier in the day; this time via text. I planned a night for Magical Dining with my friends, a married couple and another friend.
Following my GPS, I got to the shopping and food plaza off Sandlake Road, as I expected to but could not find the venue. I knew where it was, but because I followed the GPS, I was not sure anymore. I walked the strip and ran into the valet and asked. It was right behind me at that point. Because this large sign is on the second level, I was not able to clearly see it. What I’m getting at here is, beware following the GPS.
When I opened the door, I was greeted with a blaring, cacophony of noise so loud that when one of the four people behind the bar dropped and shattered glass, it was hardly noticeable. As I was the first to arrive, I checked in with the host. He said he could seat me and have my friends meet me when they got there. I had a bad experience at my house before leaving for the evening and while waiting to be seated made conversation with the host about it. It turned into a religious discussion, prompted by him. I am not a religious person and found it rather odd but was able to keep up. I was also passed up for seating by three other parties that cut in front of me. Partially by them ignoring me, partly because they were seated by the host taking them around me. One set of people was a pair of attractive young women that the host said he would seat me near to make my day better because of how bad it was going. I didn’t care one way or another because I was there for food and to see my friends. When I was eventually seated, I was lead into a room hosting two large groups having private parties behind a wall, so the women were not visible at all, to which the seater apologized and made some off-color remark about them to say it wasn’t so bad that I couldn’t talk to them.
My friends texted to say they were there and wanted to know where I was seated. Typically, the host would let them know, but after they sat, they told me they had to search the place for me because the host admitted to not seeing me on the reservation list (the one that was used earlier to confirm I was there). My friend’s husband was perturbed on behalf of his wife based on the noise level in the room we were in. He tried to get us another table, but was told, “someone had to sit there.” This soured the mood for the evening, as his wife was the one excited to go to this venue to have a selection of wine but because of the noise level, she was already getting a headache and did not want to exacerbate it with alcohol.
Other than the noise issue, which was extreme, the rest of the service was adequate. We had a mix of a water waiter, a general waiter, and another one that all periodically came to our table to ask if we needed anything or serve us what we asked for. I opted to have a rum and coke because I was agitated over the day’s events and my friend being upset was making me nervy. Placing the order was difficult because of the noise level, and we had to repeat or ask the staff to repeat what they were saying several times during our visit. My other friend ordered a Jamison and ginger, while the husband of the couple requested a Pepsi and his wife stuck with the water.
After the drinks arrived and we realized that we were not going anywhere, we settled in and ordered from the Magical Dining menu. My allergy was brought up (see FAQs), but it wasn’t necessary. I ordered the French onion soup, to compare with the one from Chez Vincent, as did someone else at the table. The two others ordered the tuna tartare and Vines’ salad. Bread was delivered prior to us getting our appetizers, and it was complimented and devoured. One of my dining companions is a big fan of dinner bread. He was kind enough to let us get some as well (just kidding, we were all able to get two pieces per loaf that were delivered as he asked for a second one later).
When the appetizers arrived, we noticed the larger of the two parties got quiet, and the room was at a somewhat reasonable volume, yet still loud, we just acclimated (some did not). The soup was very hot and in an awkwardly shaped tureen making it challenging to get to the bottom. The cheese was a slice of Gruyere layered on top of a crouton and onion with a sherry-based broth. I found the one at Chez Vincent to have a better flavor because they used a cider base. My friend was not as enthused about hers when we were there. When I was done playing get-to-the-bottom-of-the-tureen and losing, I pried the overhanging cheese from the bowl. It was not an easy task.
My friend with the tuna was pleased with the starter, leaving all the garnish and accompaniments to be removed with the plate. Prior to it being taken, I tried one of the cucumber slices used for the base. It was saturated with a salty soy sauce. It tasted fine, but an entire dish of that would be enough sodium for several days. I was told that the salad was good. Nothing special. It looked tasty and was tomato-free.
As the dishes were cleared, the bread-lover asked for the second serving, and it arrived prior to our entrees. We were eating some of the bread when the entrees came. We all ordered the 6 oz. Petite Filet Mignon in various degrees of temperature. Mine was medium rare, and I would prefer not to go into what the others had to spare my thoughts on them. Other than me., no one knew what to do with the garlic confit. I scooped a bulb out of the garlic and spread it on a piece of meat that was butter-cut tender and sauced. As much as I like garlic, the sauce was sufficient with the peppercorn flavor that the garlic actually ruined the taste. I tried this move a few more times and then fell in line with the rest of the diners and went without. The sauce was very flavorful and complimented both the steak and the mashed potatoes. Although the potatoes were creamy and without lumps, they were not nearly as smooth as the night before at The Grill.
Our plates were removed, and the noise level had already started increasing again. I started making obscene comments because it seemed to influence the noise level, but my friends suggested it was just a coincidence. The host arrived at our table and apologized for the noise level and said the desserts were on him. After he left we all questioned that statement, as he knew we were there for the Magical Dining meal, which included dessert in the price. When the dessert arrived, we all had the same thing, the chocolate cake. Earlier I mentioned the other allergy that I don’t bring up often because it is much easier to avoid in dining situations. I am also allergic to mint, and the menu specifically points out that there is mint (assuming leaves) on the plate for this choice. None of the dishes had it on there. They also mentioned someone was not getting the strawberry because of an allergy, which none of us indicated earlier. I did have a plate with strawberries, and they were neither sweet nor flavorful. They were more like a garnish than a treat. The cake, on the other hand, was very chocolatey. I do not know where the ganache was, but there were three distinct types of chocolate in that cake (the moist cake itself, the thick, almost cheesecake mouse, and the frosting). I will mention more of this cake later.
As we were preparing to leave, we verified that the checks were not prorated for the “complimentary” dessert, as expected. It was still loud in the restaurant in its entirety and specifically that room.
Here’s what I think of the place. The food was a mixed bag, but more on the positive side. Unfortunately, the odd seating staff interactions and the noise level lead me to say avoid this place for fine dining and specifically a romantic evening. I’m kind of hard-pressed to recommend it at all. I have had bad experiences where the establishment soured me because of what happened, but I do not feel this way about this location. I just have a general feeling of not wanting to deal with the noise level. If I wanted to eat at the dance club, I would go to a dance club, not a wine bar. In my mind, a wine bar is a place where you can go to get a nice glass of wine and experience IT, not the party next to you or the whole restaurant at once. I will say that the noise was so generalized, I did not overhear a single conversation. I could have probably yelled state secrets and not had to worry about anyone hearing it so if that is your aim, this place is excellent. What also bothers me is the chocolate cake was one of the best I have had, but unlike the one I had at another venue, where I didn’t even remember eating it, there was a bitter taste from the sound all around me making it far less enjoyable.