Venue Review: Wooden Vine Wine Bar & Bistro
The Charlotte Observer
231 N. Tryon St.; 704-376-8463
HITS: Smart wine-friendly foods, quick service and handsome setting.
MISSES: Dull shrimp and grits at lunch, dry housemade fettuccine.
PRICES: Lunch $5-$12; dinner in small-plate form $5-$12.
HOURS: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday, to 11 p.m. Tuesday-Wednesday, to 12:30 a.m. Thursday-Saturday; 3-9 p.m. Sunday.
INSPECTION SCORE: 94.5 July 7.
Duck through this North Tryon Street doorway in uptown and you’re amid the deep warm glow of wood and wine.
Rough wood panels line some walls, a sinuous bark-edged table of striking reclaimed wood seats 10, smaller tables offer various heights to diners, and rough-hewn shelves stand out against a vibrant olive green wall. Upholstered leather and suede chairs rest on flooring that is a Jacob’s coat of pieced woods. Wine crates and bottles dot walls and corners, as do artful and/or impressive-name labels.
It’s a most accessible space, conducive to nestling in with a glass or five, and appropriate things to nibble. And some weightier small plates are truly fine.
David Soper and his family bought the Wooden Vine in February. He tweaked the concept, with some kitchen renovation, to broaden its menu, hired chef Jon Martinson and ramped up by midsummer. Soper says he grew up on a Virginia vineyard, studied cooking, then management at the Charlotte Johnson & Wales campus, and got certified by the Court of Master Sommeliers before working as a sommelier at the Charlotte City Club for a few years.
So the wine affinity comes honestly, and it’s evident in the place.
About 30 by-the-glass selections are offered, along with specials for tasting (five for $5 on Tuesdays, $12 flights daily, and more). About 40 white and 60 red wines are kept on the bottles list, and servers are enthusiastic about just about everything.
They’re also quick, once you seat yourself. The place aims at a more casual feel. Start with marinated olives, a generous bowl of mixed types with lots of citrus zest and rosemary, or a very generous and attractive cheese plate. You could save that for dessert if you wish, but don’t miss it. Local honey, pear butter and toasted ciabatta make it enough for three people to sample.
There’s also an antipasti plate of cured meats, if you’re looking for things easily share-able. From there, the dinner menu is essentially tapas.
Among the best we had were a smoky chipotle-tomato braised chicken taco with avocado crema, bright summer vegetables with nicely delicate gnocchi and housemade ricotta, two fat scallops seared and served with smoked cheddar creamed corn, and delectable, shred-with-your-fingers grilled short rib with cucumber mint salad. Of these, the first and last are on the upcoming menu, while the middle two reappear with some tinkering: Roasted chicken and wild mushrooms will accompany the gnocchi, and scallops will get a hazelnut crust and butternut squash puree.
I tried shrimp and grits at lunch and was disappointed by its dullness, but the new menu will add a runny egg, honey cornbread and pork butter. The only other unsuccessful dish – a dismally dry housemade fettuccine with shrimp – is, wisely, gone. Crispy pork belly from Grateful Growers remains in the lineup, as does flank steak from Gilcrest.
New dinner additions are traditional Spanish tapas: stuffed piquillo pepper, crispy potatoes with smoked paprika aioli and more.
The Wooden Vine is working to find its place, particularly at lunch, say Soper and Martinson. The new menu adds sandwiches of short rib on Nova brioche and oyster po’ boys, for example, and a few more entrees.
Tapas have proved a tough sell uptown in the past. But this wine-centric effort deserves a shot.