Vintana is located above a 300,000-square-foot Lexus Dealership. It’s not a typical location, but as we all know, there are gems of restaurants hidden in generic strip malls, attached to gas stations, or in the middle of nowhere. Ultimately, it comes down to the food and the ambiance inside and on occasion, the outside view adds another dramatic element.Vintana is stunning inside, and depending on which way you are looking and the time of day, there are outside views to match. I should add that there is a very impressive open-air outdoor terrace that is equipped with some comfortable patio furniture and fire pits. That spot turns into an event area that can be rented out and is home to a concert series.
The Cohn Restaurant Group and partner Executive Chef Deborah Scott are behind Vintana, and given their successful track record, I don’t see them opening a restaurant without a thorough analysis of the market they will be serving. There is nothing like Vintana in inland North County and the response has been very positive.
I had a chance to meet Scott to record a “Lick the Plate on KPRi” interview and came away even more impressed with her combination of culinary skills and street smart business sense.
She became a celebrity chef in San Diego in large part because of her talent and hard work, before the advent of the Food Network starting doing that for largely unproven chefs. As a native of Virginia Beach, Va., Scott perfected her talent at the Baltimore Culinary College and also boasts graduate courses from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park.
It did not hurt that she caught the eye of restaurateurs David and Lesley Cohn in 1995 when her affinity for fusion landed her as the head of Kemo Sabe, the Pacific Rim infused concept formerly housed in Hillcrest. She has since attained executive chef/partner status with the Cohn Restaurant Group on Indigo Grill, C Level/ Island Prime, Chop Soo-ey/Patty Melt Trucks, Vintana, and from what I’ve heard, they are looking for a location for a new Kemo Sabe.
Vintana has the made the location their own and has one of San Diego’s top chefs at the helm, so let’s move on to the kitchen. Actually, I’ll take a pit stop at the bar first as they have some fun signature cocktails. In honor of my still vibrant 90-year-old mom Rita, I went with the chili mango “Vodka Rita.” It consisted of Absolut Peppar vodka, fresh mango and cayenne pepper. You have been represented well Rita Boylan, I enjoyed the cocktail very much.
We moved on to a few starters including oysters, Darren’s Belly Roll, and their signature lobster bisque. The oysters tasted fresh and at $2 a pop did not break the bank. Darren’s Belly Roll consists of crispy rare local yellowtail, asparagus and nori plus some mango-dynamite dipping sauce.
The lobster bisque with sherry and cream and a shrimp and corn fritter set in the middle of the bowl was as good as I’ve had. Rich and creamy and the fritter provided a nice crunch that was delightful.
There are a lot of really nice looking entrées on this list but we narrowed our choices down to the blackberry glazed Bison spareribs. Served with a bacon-pecan corn waffle, local greens and a blackberry-bourbon gastrique, this was a rib dish like I’ve never encountered but I’d eat it again in a minute. I could have eaten many more than the two meaty ribs that were served, but the flavors blew me away. Chef Scott did say this may be replaced with a more Autumn-like veal or lamb shank so check the menu online before you get set on it.
My dining companion went for the pan seared sea bass with a white bean pistou, grilled artichoke, chorizo, crab wonton, roasted potatoes and lemon-poppy seed brown butter. Wow, a lot going on there but it all worked. I always enjoy a bit of turf with my surf and loved the chorizo.
Dessert was almost going to be too much after that meal, but of course we had to try something. We decided on the apple-berry compote/crumble with vanilla ice cream and star anise in the crumble. It was a nice way to end the meal.
Entrées at Vintana range from $18 to $39 and I would suggest checking their menu online to see what seasonal fare Chef Scott has going on. It’s definitely worth checking out at cohnrestaurants.com.