Monday, November 06, 2006

Vintage Tavern

Pulling up outside of Governor's Pointe in Suffolk, I was immediately impressed by the quiet dignity of the new Vintage Tavern. Cobbled with stone and framed with sturdy precision, the edifice stands out impressively amid the greenery.

Entering through a heavy wooden door, my eyes flickered between the ornate framed hanging glass, the soaring ceilings, the grand staircase leading to a second-floor dining area. A small door immediately to the left peeked into the tavern portion of the building. Dark and sleek, it was lorded over by a host of mounted game heads - very retro, lord of the manor style.

The hostess seated our group immediately in the downstairs dining area, and the waitress arrived quickly for our drink orders. Let me say this - the wine list is impressive, running the gamut from inexpensive fun roses, to no-holds barred top dollar reds.

Chef Sam McGann's menu riffs off the theme seasonally Southern, pairing old favorites with an upscale spin. I started with the jumbo lump crab remoulade with basil marinated zucchini, cucumbers & tomatoes ($9.50). The crab was superbly fresh, the remoulade perfectly balancing rich and light flavors with each bite. The vegetables, too, were fresh and lively, and came topped with micro greens.

The Taste of Southern Goodness ($12) is a sampler platter containing country ham, Bennett's Creek sausage, green tomato relish, paté and deviled eggs. This pleasing ensemble is definitely sized to share, and turned out to be a real crowd pleaser.

Southside Virginia Brunswick Stew ($6.50) is a surprisingly large portion of that old favorite, saddled with a fluffy country ham biscuit.It was at this point I was glad that our server returned with a breadbasket. The roll was just the right tool to sop up the remaining precious drops of soup. If your sopping needs have already been met, skip the roll, and ask for a slice of the delicious cornbread. Or, if you're my husband, ask for two.

Feeling the need for a little green, I split a salad with one of my dining companions. Farm market strawberry & goat cheese salad with toasted pistachio nuts and balsamic vinaigrette was bursting with tangy, vibrant flavors. Juicy, sweet and cleansing was the consensus between us girls, and we were ready to face the main event.

The cider brined grilled pork chops with warm molasses glazed vidalia onions, Carolina corn relish and Zataraines Creole Mustard sauce ($17.50) may have permanently altered the way I feel about pork chops. These were amazingly juicy and tender, with the mustard sauce proving a fitting, zingy counterpoint. Sautéed soft shell crabs ($21.95) came perfectly browned and perched on toasted brioche.A sweet pickle relish tarter sauce and bacon, lettuce and tomato salad rounded out the plate nicely. From sweet, to tart, to tangy, and back again, success on all counts.

Grilled bison rib eye with buttermilk chive potatoes, braised Swiss chard and brandy peppercorn "gravy" ($28.95) turned out to be the real showstopper of the evening. The plate seemed to groan beneath the Flintstones-sized cut of bison meat. The sides peeked out from underneath, soaking up any droplets of gravy that slowly worked their way down. One bite confirmed the pleasurable scent wafting from the dish: a rich, full flavor that seemed almost beefier than regular beef.If I had the choice, I'd never eat a cow-steak again.

Griddled jumbo lump crab cake($22.95) came artfully arranged on fresh herb spring vegetable couscous, with watercress sauce lining the sides. The crab cakes were bursting with large chunks of pure jumbo lump that tasted just like the sea.All together, another fresh-tasting dish bursting with vibrant, pure flavors.

Somehow, we still found room for dessert. Between the bourbon bread pudding with whipped cream & whiskey sauce, warm pecan yart with buttermilk ice cream, watermelon sherbet or strawberry rhubarb cobbler, well, I'd be hard pressed to pick a favorite.What I would recommend is to enjoy the end of your meal outside on the stunning open patio. Statues, flowing ponds and stonework conspire to make your time relaxed and decidedly tranquil.

Service is still uneven a couple of months into this venture, with some awkward waits between courses, improper pouring technique and glasses left sitting empty.After speaking with the headwaiter, I'm hopeful that this is a temporary situation. Experienced "old hands" are teaming with the more junior members to train and hone their serving skills to a higher, more consistent level.

Vintage Tavern is an elegant and relaxed upscale dining experience that is sure to satisfy both the eyes and the palate. The fresh regional foods are sourced locally, using sustainable farming practices when possible, and an adherence to this quality is reflected in the price.If you live in the nearby community, Governor's Pointe, well, I certainly envy the ease of access.The rest of us will certainly view this as a nifty dining destination, especially attractive as it's in one of the less congested areas of Hampton Roads.

See additional photos here.


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