I've heard a lot of mutterings, not many of them flattering, about the restaurant-in-a-car-dealership locale of Vintana Wine + Dine (1205 Auto Park Way in Escondido), the latest dining experience from the Cohn Restaurant Group. It does feel a bit tacky walking past various Lexuses (Lexii?) to get to your final destination, but, fortunately, once you're seated, no one's trying to sell you a car.
I went on a bit of a binge at Vintana recently—it was my husband's and my first real night out since having a baby in December. We ate a lot. You'd think we'd never been out of the house.
We started our evening with cocktails at V2L2, the restaurant's vodka-focused lounge. I prefer whiskey, but did I mention it was a baby-free night out? I dived into the Honeysuckle, a syrupy-sweet confection featuring peach vodka and orange-flower water. It's great if you're a hummingbird, but it lacked the depth and sophistication of a true craft cocktail.
If you're looking for a great nibble to go with your booze, definitely try the crispy chickpea calamari. I've never fallen in love with calamari; rarely do I find a version that doesn't have the texture of fried rubber bands. Vintana serves a tidy pile of airy, briny crisps of squid, with a hint of citrus and a just-spicy-enough dipping sauce.
Chef Deborah Scott's food is not subtle. The flavors are powerful, and she manages to pack an amazing amount of ingredients into one dish. Sometimes it works. Take the now u?ber-trendy Brussels sprouts, for example, no longer the stinky losers of the vegetable world. That's probably because chefs like Scott are roasting them with bacon, then augmenting the sprouts' natural sweetness with molasses and raisins.
But sometimes the enthusiasm for loading a dish with seemingly unrelated ingredients created confusion for my mouth. I was seduced into ordering the pan-roasted sea bass—listen to all the tasty things it comes with: white-bean pistou, grilled artichokes, chorizo, crab wonton roasted potatoes and lemon poppy-seed brown butter. And it all tasted fine. Just—fine. With so much going on, my palate didn't know which flavor to focus on, and nothing really stood out.
Perhaps I had set my taste buds up for disappointment. By the time the fish arrived, I'd already had a bowl of Scott's velvety lobster bisque. After all I had already consumed, the flavors in the sea bass were too much. At that point, I just needed to suck on an ice cube.
My advice is to go for the humble lemon-thyme roast chicken. This is as good a bird as you'll find anywhere in town. The flavor is still rich and bold, but it works in a dish that can easily veer toward bland.
Cohn restaurants excel at service, and Vintana was no exception. It strives to be personal, attentive and professional, and it succeeds mightily.
Enjoy the flavors of Vintana in moderation. And don't feel like you have to purchase a Lexus.