Settled on the penthouse level of the luxurious shopping district, The Centre at Lexus Escondido, is Cohn Restaurant Group’s newest venture, Vintana Wine + Dine. The restaurant showcases a modern rendition of California cuisine melded with a breathtaking panoramic view of local mountains and the city of Escondido in a semi-casual setting. Executive Chef Deborah Scott has conceived a sensational menu that offers a wide variety of notable dishes that guests can relish. Overwhelm your senses with Vintana’s fresh sustainable seafood options including Clear Spring Rainbow Trout and Mano De Leon Sea Scallops. Or satisfy your palate with one of the Signature Steaks like a 14 oz. Natural Eye of Ribeye or a 16 oz. Bone in Certified Angus New York Strip, prepared one of three ways: charbroiled, seared, or blackened. With 20,000 square feet of space, Vintana can seat an astounding 280 diners, and with 2,500 square feet of outside space, guests can enjoy Vintana’s galas or rent it out for a night for a private event. Vintana’s establishment also offers a Vodka Lounge where guests can indulge on rare vodka spirits from the vast mountainous regions of Sweden to local domains of California. Visit Vintana Wine + Dine within Escondido region for a true experience of Southern California cuisine.Read More ...
The penthouse level of the Lexus Centre in Escondido is home to the latest collaboration between the Cohn Restaurant Group known for local favorites such as Blue Point, Prado, and Island Prime and well-known local chef Deborah Scott of Indigo Grill and C Level. Opened in the Spring of 2012, this 20,000 square foot establishment has steadily grown in popularity. The experience begins as patrons drive up. It is not often that I am wowed by a restaurant’s exterior. I don’t go to a restaurant to stare at the façade or the well-adorned walls; I come for the quality of food, service and overall dining experience. At Vintana Wine+Dine, I’m in awe of all of the above.
I exit Interstate 15, take two quick lefts, and arrive at the dealership. The building is tall, with pristine floor-to-ceiling windows and crème-colored concrete. I step on my brakes as I peek up at the massive collaboration of car dealership and restaurant. Vintana sits on the top level of the structure as a beacon to all those who look its way. The experience begins with complimentary valet on the ground level, a nice touch for guests. As I wait for my guest to arrive, I take a picture of the fountain in the median the large cobblestone-styled driveway. I’m already impressed and have yet to enter the restaurant. As my friend arrives and valets her car, we walk past the vast array of different luxurious Lexus models on the showroom floor, to the glass elevator. For lack of a better word, entering the elevator is simply cool. It features a 360-degree view of the inside of the dealership, and as I hit the button to take us to Vintana, I eagerly await our top floor destination.
As the elevator doors open, eye-catching details inundate me from all angles. The colorful décor, the antique leather couches, the old trunks that function as ottomans in the bar area, it all imparts a feeling of fine dining. To the right is the bar with eight stools, as well as the leather couches and chairs. This comfortable area invites guests to sit and talk with friends. Televisions and a staggering number of vodka choices line the wall of the full bar.
I turn to the left and approach the host stand, where we are greeted as we approach. Because we are a little early for dinner service, my companion and I decide to enjoy a drink while our table is readied. The chef-jacketed bartender comes by and introduces himself as I gloss over the cocktail menu. A thorough list of house specialties range from the Honeysuckle Cocktail and Cactus Cooler to the Chili Mango “vodka – rita” and Vintana Tropic. Local breweries Stone, Karl Straus, and Ballast Point are on draft as are bottled beers from Modelo and Redbridge. California and Oregon wines represent the domestic offerings, while international vineyards from, Italy, Spain, France, New Zealand, Argentina round out the wines by the glass. $7 martinis made with any of the 125 vodkas available gives me something to mull over, but I have choose to go for something simple made with tequila. Greg, our bartender, asks what sort of flavors I like and what I don’t. He and says, “OK, I’ll mix something up and be back in a second.” A handcrafted drink made specifically for me? I think to myself, sure. The hostess informs us that our table is ready just as Greg grabs my friend a strawberry lemonade. Beverages in tow, we head to our table with our personal bartender, and take a seat right next to the 17-foot tall wall of windows. The view of Escondido is spectacular with the mountains in the background, all the brand new cars in the foreground, and the sun a few hours from setting. I would be troubled to find a more picturesque atmosphere to electrify a date, a group of friends, a business client, or family members.
Once seated, we are met by Chef Deborah Scott, the co-owner of Island Prime/C Level on Harbor Island, Indigo Grill in Little Italy, and now Vintana Wine+Dine. I notice Chef Scott approaching our table. After she introduces herself, she begins to tell us about how her latest creation came about. “I told David and Lesley (Cohn) that I didn’t want to open another restaurant unless it was unique,” said the Virginia native. “And they told me they had a spot we should go check out.” Once Chef Scott checked out the place, ideas were thrown around about what she could do in the space. It was then that the friends and business partners decided to dive into this new concept.
Chef Scott goes over the menu with my friend and I. Since we have her attention, my friend and I are of the opinion that Chef Scott should decide what dishes she would like to highlight. Chef Scott agrees to our request, and heads to the kitchen after a bit more small talk about food and the restaurant.
The menu consists of farm-to-table American food with added flair. Many of the dishes are exclusive to Vintana, such as the Vintana’s Filet Trio, the Roasted Garlic & Crispy Mushroom Gnochhi, and the Clear Springs Rainbow Trout Oscar. The Black and White Sesame Salmon is an entrée featured on both Vintana and C Level’s menu, but they vary slightly at each restaurant by accompaniments. It is clear Chef Scott knows what her customer’s like, and this cross over is clearly one of the reasons her establishments do so well. Vintana is open for lunch daily, and serves a slightly different menu that includes sandwiches such as the Apple Grilled Cheese, and salads such as the Spinach and Roasted Beets with Wild Grilled White Prawns. There is still has a wide variety of choices and some dishes overlap from the midday meal to dinner.
Vintana makes fresh popovers on an hourly basis. These have a similar texture to a creampuff with a light, flaky texture and a mostly hollow center. I ask one of the food runners about the popovers, and he says the kitchen makes a few hundred for dinner service alone. He brings two to the table along with jalapeno jelly butter. Spreading this jelly butter on the amuse bouche bread, gives the lightly salty “dinner roll” a sweet and spicy punch.
We have an amazing server in Shayla. She breaks down the specials for the evening and advises us on some of her favorites on the menu, like the Black Pepper Bacon Wrapped Pork Tenderloin. She has been at Vintana since it opened. Instead of being nervous, having to follow the chef of the restaurant, she is comfortable and full of smiles the entire time. We mention to her that Chef Scott is choosing the dishes for us and she goes to check on the progress.
As I look at the hanging, pearl necklace-like chandeliers, and out at the view from the third floor, Shayla sets down a trio of appetizers at the table. The attention to customer service is apparent here with what seems to be waves of servers and runners pouring water, clearing off dishes, and making sure our experience (and the rest of the diners’) is nothing less than spectacular. As the dishes are set down, my eyes ping-pong across the table between Darren’s Belly Rolla and the Mexican Prawn and Sweet Corn Fritters, both popular at Vintana. Another plate, available at all of Chef Scott’s restaurants, is the Nut Crusted Brie. Chef Scott pops back to our table, and shows us how we should properly layer the flavors for her signature dish. First, she spreads the roasted garlic on the toast points, she then cuts off a chunk of the soft brie, and slathers that over the garlic. She continues with her preparation, drizzles jalapeno jelly across the cheese and finally places arugula on top. We do as instructed and proceed to sink into our seats after the first bite. Each ingredient is present as I chew and the mixture forms a symphony of tastes and textures. Salty, crunchy, sweet, spicy, chewy and sour tastes all rise in flavor crescendo. With so many flavors in a single mouthful, I am a happy camper.
Darren’s Belly Roll is the second item my guest and I devour in just a few bites. This is a play on a sushi roll; with rare local yellowtail wrapped in what I am guessing is panko breaded nori (seaweed). On top are spicy aioli, fried pickled ginger, and fish roe to add layers of flavor of this fresh and tasty plate. I am a fan of raw fish and the yellowtail on this plate is high quality.
Next are the Mexican Prawn and Sweet Corn Fritters. These are light, crispy little cubes of fresh shrimp with a bacon crème fraiche, chili threads, and chives. Each bite is a mouthful, but with the airy batter and the soft prawn, I don’t feel anything other than the corn kernels popping in my mouth, and the slight chewiness of the crustacean. Both my guest and I inhale this dish, and while she admits to not being a fan of shrimp, she loves this plate.
Shayla checks on us to make sure we are enjoying the food, and by our empty plates, she gets the idea that the cooks are doing a great job. She asks if I would like to pair any of Vintana’s wines by the glass with the entrees, and I am all for it. The wine list encompasses selections from California, Spain, New Zealand, France and Argentina. If you enjoy a wine type or a specific flavor profile, the servers can guide you to a bottle to suit your liking. I ask Shayla what she would recommend with pork and steak, and she comes up with a slightly spicy and smooth Millworks Pinot Noir from Sonoma.
Chef Scott has been in San Diego for 20 years and has opened many different restaurants. One of her patron’s favorite dishes is her Skirts on Fire. It’s an Asian-inspired marinated skirt steak with a spicy twist. The Vintana version is atop a salad of mixed greens, grilled red onions, candied walnuts, roasted red bell peppers, blue cheese, garlic croutons, and balsamic vinaigrette. Every bite again contains all sorts of textures and flavors and produces an engaging dish. Creamy blue cheese mingles with the balsamic vinaigrette, and the spicy steak really stimulates my taste buds. I love sweet and spicy, and this combo is spot on.
I haven’t had pork in some time, so when the Executive Chef of Vintana, Chris Trevisin, sets down a Black Pepper Bacon Wrapped Pork Tenderloin, I am more than excited. Chef Trevisin has some impressive culinary chops. He has worked with the likes of famous California Chef Bradley Ogden, as well as in Las Vegas restaurants such as Mix and Valentino . The Black Pepper Bacon Wrapped Pork Tenderloin is stuffed with sun-dried nectarines, pistachios, and peaches. Underneath the tenderloin is a sweet potato hash that looks just as tasty as the main dish. The tenderloin is moist as the soft sweet potato mixes with pork belly and Brussels sprouts leaves. Presented parallel to the centerpiece of the dish is a fig jam and a pastry brush swipe of a balsamic vinegar reduction. Combining each part of the plate adds another dimension to the whole experience. My companion loves the sweet potatoes and the pork. I love the pork belly and pork loin combo.
Chef Scott is conscience of her customers and their wants. “I listen to what people tell us after their meal,” says Scott. “We want to give them options.” In this case, she gives diners the option to eat healthy at each one of her restaurants. Having come up with “Fuel for a Healthier Lifestyle”, she gives us a chance to take a taste of her brainchild. The entrée changes daily with what she can get in her kitchens, but today we get a Blackened Sea Bass on top of a panzanella salad with fresh zucchini, roasted tomatoes, red onion, arugula, and crunchy croutons. Seasonal produce is sourced daily from nearby purveyor, Connelly Farms in Ramona. While the sea bass is the focus of the plate, the quality of the accompaniments is also superb. The fish is light and flakey with the blackening seasoning offering a nice kick. The crisp red onion, zucchini, soft and sweet roasted tomatoes, spicy arugula, and soft yet crunchy croutons, give the contrast I like from a panzanella salad.
For dessert, we get a pair of house favorites: Kelly’s S’more and a fresh fruit clafoutis. The s’more is a different take on the classic preparation. It features a chocolate pot de crème inside an espresso cup with marshmallow cream, Spanish peanuts and house-made graham crackers. My companion and I use the crackers as dipping utensils and then put the s’more flavors together for the first bite. I picture a campfire and a stick with a marshmallow at the end, a half-eaten Hershey bar, and graham crackers. The fresh fruit clafoutis is a French baked dessert that is traditionally made with black cherries. It has a cherry on top contains fruit to go along with a flan like batter on the inside that is both moist and rich. I dip my spoon in the quarter-sized pool of salted caramel and then grab a spoonful of fruit for an extra bit of flavor to the final dessert.
Once the dinner is over, David Daniel, a manager at Vintana, takes us for a tour of the property. David leads us to the two outdoor patios, one of which has held a few summer concerts and has the capacity for 1,500 people to party the night away underneath the California sky. The other patio can hold approximately 1,000 people, and has a large wall that seems like it could host a movie a screening. David tells us that another kitchen outside helps to relieve some of the stress from the main kitchen with so many people eating and drinking out on the lanai. There is also has a separate menu that is more shareable with finger food like Oysters on the Half Shell and Muay Thai wings. Cabanas line the left wall, and to the right, a large bar opens at night. There are three fire pit areas where people can lounge and eat seven days a week near the entrance to the restaurant. We move on to the second level of the Lexus Centre and see two more banquet areas, both of which seat a few hundred people. There is plenty to see here and tremendous opportunities for the future of Vintana, including space for shops and boutiques.
As with every review, I am full and slowly slipping into a food coma when I get to my car. The difference is that I’m thinking of just how great my overall experience was. My eyes simply could not take in enough of my surroundings from the walk up, dinner, the view, and the tour. There are just so many things to keep me busy. With most of the dishes, every texture and flavor is packed onto a plate with the intention to impress, not overwhelm. The food was excellent and the atmosphere a sight to behold. Escondido might not be known for much other than agriculture and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, but now it has a destination point in Vintana Wine+Dine.
There is a killer happy hour from 2:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. and has over 100 wines by the bottle, 10 draft beers, 17 reds by the glass and 15 whites. For those who like a wine, there is a 2-for-1 wine to-go deal in the retail area, so make sure to check this offer out.
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We were so excited that Deborah Scott was opening a restaurant in North County - We chose to dine at the new Vintana Wine + Dine for our Anniversary and we were not disappointed! We started with a great Martini and of course the signature Brie Appetizer and it got better and better -- we enjoyed wonderful Sea Bass and the Bison Short Ribs and ended with a wonderful Blood Orange Creme Brulee. We will be back and I would recommend this restaurant for anyone who wants a great meal and wonderful service. We can't wait to go back!
The food was truly scrumptious! The staff were professional but friendly. The views were lovely. Very impressed with the 'complimentary' valet parking. The valet did not accept his tip because it was 'complimentary'. Never had this in the US before! I highly recommend this restaurant. A real, rare treat.
The food was spectacular, the ambiance was great, service was wonderful! My wife and I went for a pre-Valentine's Day dinner so we didn't have to put up with the rush on the actual day and it was 10 times better then anything we expected. Truly the ONLY fine dinning in inland North County.
Very pleasant experience overall, service excellent, entrees very good, skip the desert if you don't like overly sweet.
I really liked Vintana. I got filet mignon and it was very good. It was pretty different driving up to a car dealership. The restaurant is on the top floor. The restaurant has valet parking, and the valet would not accept a tip because they say it is complimentary. The restaurant, food, service, and ambiance was excellant. I had a great time and would recommend the restaurant to others.
Food was great but service was lacking... maybe just a few hiccups that need some fine tuning. I'll try it again in another month or so.
In a nutshell - they put BBQ sauce on your filet mignon and not much other than seafood for apps.