I don’t trek to the far reaches of North Tampa very often but when a wine-centric restaurant opens, my curiosity eats at me until I cave. This time, the 30-minute trip was worth it. Tucked away in one of the pre-packaged strip malls lining Dale Mabry Highway, The Vine’s creatively decorated dining room feels like an oasis. To reach the front door, you walk through outdoor seating, partly shielded from the drab parking lot with foliage. On a Saturday night, they also had a pretty decent singer/songwriter crooning for the crowd.
The bar is enormous, spanning most of the dining room and fully stocked with high-end vodkas and beautiful women concocting exotic cocktails. I can be a sucker for a fruity beverage, but I came for the wine. A bartender presented an 11-page tome… an auspicious beginning. I counted 39 better-than-the-average-joint wines by the glass, like Natura Chardonnay ($8), a forward-thinking organic winery out of Chile; The Crusher Viognier from California ($8); 2 Up Shiraz from Australia ($11); and an unusual red blend from Virginia’s (yes, Virginia) Albemarle Winery ($8). Bottle prices are completely and sometimes shockingly reasonable, with plenty in the $20-$30 range. Compliments to Sommelier and Bar Manager Mike Casey. My only criticism: the plethora of spelling errors.
Food was good… not spectacular, but solid. Gengis Khan Lamb Tenderloin ($24) and Chilean Sea Bass ($28), artfully presented and basking in inventive sauces, lacked a finishing effort, like an appropriate dashing of salt. However, Char Su Duck ($20), Seafood Souffle ($10) and Lobster Mac n Cheese ($8) were spot on in seasoning, portion and temperature. So often chefs cook the hell out of duck, like they’re scared it will wake up and start quacking again. Thankfully, not at The Vine.
Service = attentive, especially the wine service, so someone did some training. And it’s really not that far. It took us 30 minutes to get to The Vine from downtown Tampa, a significant ride but not for good food and wine like this.
The Vine Restaurant and Wine Bar
17667 N. Dale Mabry Highway Lutz, FL 33548
P.S. If you go to the website, turn your volume off… the music is like a bad outtake from a smooth jazz album.