Sunday, June 20, 2010

Restaurant Review: Gervais and Vine

My friend Sloan is home for a visit, the first in three years, since he now lives in Germany so my best friend and I decided the three of us should get together for dinner to catch up.  After an international flight, jetlag,  and adjusting to humid, southern weather, his one request was nothing "heavy."  Given the guidelines and his questionable stomach, we decided upon Gervais and Vine, a Mediterranean tapas bar nestled at the end of the Vista in Columbia SC..

Before continuing, I love tapas.  Tapas bars are among my favorite eats because encourages adventurousness in eating decisions, fosters a more social dining environment, and allows you to try everything on the menu!  I first discovered the concept of tapas at Meritage in Charleston, South Carolina and never turned back.  I loved eating while living  in Chile and Argentina because every meal was essentially tapas, thanks to their smaller portions! My addiction continued to grow once I moved to DC as I frequented  Ceiba and Jaleo, despite my graduate student budget.

Okay, back to the review.  We arrived and the waitress promptly approached us for our drink orders.  Being in a tapas bar I was hopeful that a malbec would be available, and although I could not find it on their wine list, I asked our server and sure enough they had a bottle.  After living in Argentina, I fell in love with malbecs, a varietal red unique to the country thanks to a great climate and tannin filled malbec grapes.  I got my glass eager to taste the warmth and sweetness of the malbec and relive my nights cooking in Buenos Aires. When the wine finally hit my lips, it was cold. Umm...why is my red wine cold?!  Is the malbec ordered with such low frequency that Gervais and Vine uses at home methods of wine preservation* to stretch the bottle?  Furthermore, even if this is the case why is the wine not brought out to get up to temperature for the dinner service? This was off putting for me, but I let it go and decided to keep an open mind about the food.

We ordered two rounds of tapas after still feeling a bit of a hunger pang after round one.  We started the meal with she crab spread,  herb grilled lamb chops, a roasted duck quarter, and spicy gambas.  The second round of tapas consisted of Moroccan spiced pork, tomato pesto shrimp, and marinated artichoke hearts.  In the tradition of tapas, we of course shared with one another.
    The first dish to come out were the gambas, spicy shrimp cooked with roma tomatoes, bacon, sherry, and garlic. This is the first time in my life that I saw that bacon cannot make everything better.  The shrimp were overcooked and overpowered by smokey chilies and paprika. Typically, gambas are one of my favorite tapas, because its usually gambas al ajillo a spicy, garlicky shrimp dish that has a light flavor and subtle heat.  I felt that Gervais and Vine was attempting to put their own spin on this classic, but sadly fell short.  Also, I was not a fan of the dirty buttered bread.  The bread was buttered and obviously placed on the grill, but it was in no way toasted so it was just chewy and dirty looking.  I also thought the in the pan presentation was not creative, but instead a bit lazy.  Between the three of us, over half of this tapas remained untouched.

    The herb grilled lamb chops was one of the specials on Friday night so we decided to give it a try.  Slathered in fresh herbs such as rosemary and thyme and a bit of salt and pepper, the lamb was tender, well seasoned, crisp, and smokey from the grill.  The Chanterelle mushroom demiglaze was flavorful and complex with notes of the mushrooms, lamb, and ouzo complementing one another and the glaze paired with the lamb nicely.  I wished the that glaze was more of a "bed" for the meat to rest in, because placing the sauce over the lamb chops slightly undid the work of the grill regarding texture. Nonetheless, the three of us were all practically gnawing on the bone and almost forgot about the small salad. The salad was not memorable, just greens and a bit of dressing, so we went back to scrounging for lamb meat.  Obviously, this was one of our favorites.

    Our third little plate was roasted duck with rice timbale.  I'd never tasted duck before and I was pleasantly surprised!  The skin was crispy and had a nice salty-sweet flavor thanks to the honey, salt, and other seasonings and the meat was fatty and tender, a nice contrast to the crunch skin.  The rice timbale was flavorful and reminded me of Indian and Mediterranean flavor combinations as the salad had rice, olives, raisins, and chickpeas.  I was not a big fan of it because I do not like cold rice salads, by my friends really enjoyed it and how it complimented the duck.  By the time the three of us this plate was clean and only bones remained, even the microarugla got eaten.

    Consisting of crab, crab roe, garlic, sherry, cream cheese, and Parmesan cheese, the she crab spread tasted like she crab soup, so to me it was a success.  The top was perfectly crusty from the cheese baking in the oven, while the inside was creamy.    My only gripe with the dip are  with respect to presentation.  Only 4 pieces of crusty bread accompanied the dish, but we also had a mound of crackers and cornichons.  The dip tasted much better spread on the bread than the crackers, so I was unsure as to why the crackers were even present.  I was also confused by the oranges on the plate...lemon I could understand, heck even lime, but oranges? And the cornichons did not compliment the flavor of the dip, so why were they invited to the party? If you can't tell I'd prefer no garnish to one that is not thoughtful with respect to the flavor profile of the dish.

    The Moroccan spiced pork in the words of my friend "tasted like Christmas" because of all of the traditional spices used in Moroccan cuisine, the cinnamon was the most apparent in this dish.  The pork had a nice crust, but was a bit chewy and pushing on overcooked.  The pork was served with a Gorgonzola fondue that did not compliment the flavor of the pork, and I felt that it was largely out of place.  My friends agreed, adding that they felt the dip was watery, herb-y, and "bizarre."  Concerning presentation, large toothpicks were placed in the dip to encourage skewering and dipping, but enough toothpicks did not come to the table so my friend Aimee ended up using a fork, while Sloan and I stabbed with the skewers.  To me, the waitress should have ensured that enough toothpicks were available for everyone at the table, but maybe I'm asking for too much.  Anyhow, less than half of this dish was eaten, but we all kept discussing it after its abandonment to try to figure out why it "tasted funny."

    I would love to tell you about the Sun Dried Tomato Pesto Shrimp, because they sounded incredibly promising on the menu: garlic and herb grilled shrimp served on a fresh tomato and basil pesto, yum! Sadly, the shrimp were so overcooked that we sent them back and  I referred to them as rubber bands for the rest of the night.  I will say that they were plated beautifully.

    The marinated artichoke hearts are nothing much to report on, I'm pretty sure they aren't done in house and hail from a can or jar of some kind.  Nonetheless, they tasted good and the portion was generous.

    As for the service, I was not very impressed.  Perhaps I'm used to dining in D.C. and other food centers, but I do not like being rushed, nor do I want to feel as if you are trying to get me drunk so that bill will climb and  I will tip you more, relax, I tip well; I've been a waitress, I know what its like.  We had to repeatedly ask for silverware and when it finally arrived, so did her attitude.  Also, when we ordered additional tapas she did not bring clean plates, and perhaps I have a touch of OCD, but I found that pretty gross.  Furthermore we never got a refill of water, despite several requests.  And like I've said in previous posts, I can deal with bad food, but I cannot handle bad service. 

    All in all dinner was pretty mediocre.  Of the tapas ordered, only the duck and lamb were finished by us; the others remained half (or less) eaten or sent back.  Although the duck and lamb chops were amazing, that is not enough to make me return, because I feel like many of the flavor profiles of the dishes have not been thought out well. If I do return, I think I'll stick to the cold tapas and spreads because they appear to be a bit more consistent than the hot tapas. Honestly, I don't  feel like Gervais and Vine is a "must eat" in Columbia, but if you do choose to give it a go, I highly recommend the lamb chops, duck quarter, and crab dip.

    Gervais and Vine

    620-A Gervais Street
    Columbia, SC 29201
    (803) 799-8463
    Price point: $10 and less per tapas, 2-3 tapas per person to feel satisfied.

    *I learned from the Wine Coach, that if you remove the air from a bottle of wine, and place it in the fridge, you can give it a longer life.


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