On the Vine
Pretentiously Named New Towson Hot Spot Succeeds With Energetic Brio
This location is closed
The brand-new, extremely slick Vin works very well as a restaurant—and even better as theater. But it works best of all as a diagnostic test for anxiety disorders. This Towson Circle restaurant is very loud and so frenetic (but that’s just good energy) that it’s almost nerve-wracking.
Sensory data abounds at Vin—pronounced “vine,” and encouraging a serious glance at the wine list—the ambitious new Cordish Co.-backed showcase for the cooking of Christopher Patternote (pronounced “Patter-not”), former executive chef at Kali’s Court. The big-bucks, glamorama interior comes across like a brash update on Hollywood’s famous Brown Derby, which is probably deliberate—note the presence of a cobb salad, a Brown Derby invention.
Done up fashionably in basic black, the main dining area is a long horizontal space, furnished with platformed rows of ruby-red semicircle booths. These luxe leather booths all face toward the long bar, where banks of flat screens display provocative, changing images of O’Keeffe-like flowers, squiggly things, and frequently the restaurant’s logo. The configuration makes you feel like you’re on a TV show but more importantly supports active tablehopping. People-watching is tricky because you can’t see who’s coming through the doors—and you want to. It’s intended to be that kind of place, and it is.
Vin is already hopping and waits will be in store for a while. That’s good news, because waits happen just across a narrow alley from the restaurant itself on Vin’s smashing outdoor deck, a dreamy resort-style oasis of oversized umbrellas, cushiony seating groups, and pretty good music. Just a little tweaking could make this deck the best hangout spot for miles around.
Back inside, there’s a menu to absorb and a well-designed wine list that feels a little averse to bargains by the bottle. But Vin has installed a hot new wine-keeping system that allows it to offer more, and more engaging, wines by the glass than usual. Patternote’s opening menu is a little nervy, and it makes little concession to pleasing all comers. The seven entrées are a bronzini ($26), short ribs ($23), lobster Thermidor (market price), the cobb salad ($15), a hanger steak ($25), a rockfish ($24), and gnocchi ($19). Notably absent are chicken, lamb, and, especially, salmon and tuna, decisions worthy of applause. The appetizers exude some drama—a changing foie gras preparation (market price), a beef carpaccio ($10), escargot ($9), and a lobster corn dog ($11). The menu’s main concession—to cost and everyday desires—is a selection of $12 pizzas, here called “wood stone oven flatbreads,” dressed up with such toppings as lump crab, Italian sausage, and “champagne dressed” spinach.
The evening’s triumphs include first and foremost the hanger steak—juicy throughout, seasoned simply to coax out natural flavors, and smiled upon with grilled asparagus and creamy, cheesy mashed potatoes. A cunning English pea and citrus salad works with a modulated jalapeño vinaigrette to offset the wild flavors of overlapping rockfish fillets. The wood stone oven-roasted bronzini is barely bothered, just drizzled with lemon, olive oil, and capers, and it offers exquisitely mellow flavor. The cobb dinner salad misfires, though, arranging rows of dry chicken, bacon, avocado, hearts of palm, and Spanish blue cheese beside some barely dressed greens. It looked a little precious and resisted a sensible eating approach.
A calamari appetizer ($9) is phenomenally good, just tender slivers of grilled squid, lightly treated with lemon, herbs, capers, and julienne onions and cucumber. Fried oysters ($8), graham-cracker-encrusted blue points, are served with a simply effective jalapeño remoulade and feel just a little ordinary. The only flatbread we tried—with woodland mushrooms, fontina, and parsley—drew mixed reactions. The mushrooms were obscured under cheese and tomato sauce, though the crust and overall effect was praised.
Fully expect to hear widely divergent reports coming out of Vin. We had a waiter who offered to help us make selections, and we let him. Because he also boldly shook us off some dishes, he added great value to our experience and helped smooth over the inevitable dry patches and rough spots that come with the opening months of a big, new, ambitious, and flashy restaurant that is taking some big chances.