As Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump anxiously rehearsed their talking points and many huddled around their television screens in anticipation of the final Presidential debate, I was… sipping rose on the outdoor patio of Vine Wine Room in Westport. Despite the fact that it was mid-October, temperatures soared into the upper eighties and the sun shone gloriously. Ignoring any political tensions, a friend and I decided to take full advantage of the Indian Summer and headed over to Vine Wine Room, a restaurant-meets-lounge on Westport’s Main Street. One week prior, Vine hired acclaimed local chef Toni Sapienza to reimagine their menu and infuse new energy into the restaurant. They had invited us down to check out the lounge and we were eager to give Toni’s cuisine a try.
Vine first arrived on the Fairfield County scene in July and held its grand opening this past September. When it began, the owners imagined more of an upscale hangout spot. The intimate space includes only a handful of tables and a few more seats at the bar, making it ideal for socializing. They focused on wines by the glass and cocktails, then supplemented the extensive beverage offerings with a few small plates. In the past few weeks, they transformed their vision, bringing Toni onto the team.
“We started off as a wine bar, but it didn’t seem to be enough food,” manager Heather Ferrari explained. “Now, Vine is more of a restaurant.”
Toni came to vine by way of Toni’s Tuscan Table in Bridgeport, where she cultivated a following for her authentic Italian cuisine. She has also appeared on the Food Network. About two years ago, she competed- and won!- Kitchen Casino. She outperformed four other chefs and took home $10,000. At the beginning of October, she competed on Beat Bobby Flay. She and the team at Vine hope that her loyal customers and fans will energize the newest incarnation of the wine room.
“People don’t really know that I’m here yet,” Toni told us. “Now, they’re getting the hint that I’m here.”
Toni returned to her Italian roots when crafting Vine’s new menu. She describes the offerings as “Italian, rustic, Tuscan.” There are approximately five entrees, a number of pastas, and smaller bites she likens to “street food.”
Diners love Toni’s meatballs. In fact, Vine has created an evening around them: Wednesday Meatball and Martini nights. Guests can enjoy half price meatballs along with one of their specialty martinis. We could not wait to sample them for ourselves!
It was clear why they have emerged as a favorite. Each serving includes two meatballs, a touch larger than a golf ball. They came adorned with melted mozzarella that made beautiful strands of ooey gooey cheese when we lifted our forks. The consistency of the meatballs made them stand out. They reminded us of meatloaf: dense but tender, with garlic and spices. Toni finished the dish with her take on tomato sauce. Rather than a marinara or puree, there were whole pieces of tomato, slices of garlic, and a sprinkling of herbs. Unlike other meatballs that come smothered in sauce, Toni included a few spoonfuls alongside and under the meatballs. The meatballs were the star, and the sauce was simply a delicious complement.
Vine also offers an array of salads, which looked particularly appealing on the unseasonably warm day. We selected the salad of Roasted Golden Beets with a fig infused goat cheese, honey, pistachios, and balsamic. The three beet slices were large, fresh, and juicy. The combination of honey and balsamic imparted a sweetness that melded with the beets perfectly. The greens added hints of spice while the pistachios provided texture and crunch. Like the meatballs, the salad was not overly dressed. The pistachios and dressing were applied carefully, heightening the flavor while keeping the plate light and refreshing.
Further into the fall, they plan to replace the beets with butternut squash to reflect the season. I’ll have to go back!
For the main course, we ordered a full portion of Chicken with Artichoke Hearts, White Wine & Capers. (Vine offers half-size portions of some of their entrees as well.) The dish was enormous and certainly worthy of sharing. Two large, breaded chicken breasts came over a heaping pile of spaghetti. Artichokes and large capers were dispersed throughout.
Despite the sheer size of the chicken and the combination of savory ingredients, Toni still managed to make this dish feel light and balanced. The breading proved soft and flavorful. The spaghetti was exceptional as well; it was as if she had literally infused each strand with lemon.
Guests can pair Toni’s delicious cuisine with their choice of fifteen wines by the glass, 11 specialty cocktails, 14 beers, and a handful of other beverages. The wine list is well-rounded and diverse, embracing different regions and varietals. For Italian whites alone, diners can opt for a Prosecco, Soave, Gavi, or Pinot Grigio. I was pleased to see a relatively local wine on the list, the Bedell Rose from Long Island, NY.
“People really have been enjoying that we have that local option,” Heather confirmed.
The rose, blended from Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Merlot, and Malbec, four distinctly red varietals, was full fruit-forward with notes of strawberry. For rose purists, Vine did pour a rose from Provence, France, by the glass.
Vine’s wine list is accessible and affordable. Almost everything is $10 a glass or under, with the most expensive choice coming in at just $13. The wines are easy-drinking and unfussy, making Vine a perfect choice to unwind and relax.
Vine plans to expand its concept even more in the months ahead. They are currently exploring ways to introduce lunch. If that works well, they may go on to present a Sunday brunch. They also hope to start a happy hour program. Its snacks, small size, and beverage list certainly make it an ideal candidate for weeknight socializing. It even has its own parking for additional ease!
As we were leaving, I remarked on Vine’s logo. A square surrounds the IN, making it stand out from the rest of the sign.
“Yes, it’s like in the room, come on in, in style,” Heather told me. It certainly seems appropriate for the space. The name is fitting on many levels. It’s certainly a direct reference to Vine’s wine component. On a deeper level, though, it stands for the restaurant itself. Vines constantly grow and adapt to their environment, and Vine Wine Room continues to evolve and reinvent itself. We are eager to see how Toni Sapienza transforms the kitchen!
Vine Wine Room 190 Main St. Westport, CT 06880 203-557-0396
Neither CTbites nor the author were compensated for this review; the meal was discounted under the restaurant's "Friends and Family" policy. The opinions contained herein are solely those of the author.