I’ve been intrigued by the The Vineyard Restaurant, Wine Bar, Bottle Shop for some time, but each time I headed to Lake Mary it was for something more pressing. The other day I said enough — let’s head to Lake Mary just to visit The Vineyard. After all, this is a place that won a Best of Seminole restaurant award in 2009 and a Silver Spoon Award the same year from Orlando Home & Leisure, a magazine with whom I now have a relationship.
How this place ever won an award is beyond me. The food quality is way below average, prices are outrageous relative to portion, and service, led by a manager with little regard for the guests, was horribly amateurish.
OK, before I get too mired in what I don’t like about the place, let me tell you what I do.
It’s a nice space with different areas and levels and various decorating textures. Hightop tables are covered with black cloths, there is a block stone fireplace in one corner, and brick walls that offer a homey feel. Pendant lights that hang throughout the dining room look like upside down melted pillar candles and offer a soft glow. A large caged wine vault occupies much of one wall at the end of the long bar that dominates the main area (seating is also available in the retail wine shop).
I couldn’t help noticing that many of the wine bottles inside the lockers in the vault, which are available for rent by customers, were standing on end rather than on their sides. That seemed odd, I thought. A place that specializes in wines should know better than that.
Probably a clue. After the decor, there was little to love. My companion started with the French onion soup, which was mostly cheese and no flavor. It was the first French onion soup I’ve ever had that needed more salt.
I began with the sausage stuffed olives, which must surely have warmed the heart of the restaurant’s accountant. Costing nearly six bucks — close to a dollar per olive — the deep-fried concoction had a tiny bit of sausage inside a greasy jacket of breading. The flavors were unbalanced and unappealing.
But at least there were flavors. The same could not be said of the lobster risotto, which was a big, soupy mess of none. Actually, I’m using “big” figuratively. All the dishes here are proudly presented as tapas portions, even as the prices are more in line with full-size servings, $14.95 in this case.
I had the flight of sliders, which, if eaten without the stale buns, were OK, with the exception of the filler-filled crab cake. The Kobe (and let’s assume it’s American Kobe), buffalo and vegetarian portobello mushroom versions were fine.
Our server had an annoying habit of referring to us as “boys.” But it was the fellow who appeared to be the manager who caught my attention as he passed a nearby table that had been abandoned some time before. He looked at the soiled dishes and instead of stooping so low as to clear some of them, flagged down an already-busy assistant waiter to do the dirty work.
When we left, he and two other hostesses were standing at the front door. But not one of them bothered to say “good night” or “thank you for comong” or “please come again.”
As to the latter, not a chance.
The Vineyard Restaurant, Wine Bar, Bottle Shop is at 1140 Town Park Ave., Lake Mary. It is open for lunch and dinner daily. The phone number is 407-833-9463. The link will take you the The Vineyard’s Web site.