I am so impressed with this restaurant. I am not sure what took me so long to discover Vine Restaurant & Bar in San Clemente, but I am sure glad I did. The food is really exceptional. Every bite is packed with flavor, and that is so refreshing!
I am a people-watcher, and you know what I notice? For a beach side town—the clientele here is basically locals. And they don’t just like the place, they LOVE it. There are welcome smiles, handshakes, and this is a place where they just “know what you want” right when you sit down. That is a lost art and a welcome one.
This restaurant exceeds my expectations for these four simple, but often overlooked reasons:
1) Exceptional Cuisine – Where every bite means it, and is packed with flavor. If I am going to consume calories, they have to be great. Check.
2) Flexible Seating– Sometimes I am with my girlfriends and want to chat in a quiet space, while other times I am ready to rumble and have a party in the bar. Here at Vine there are SIX different dining options, and I think that is brilliant. There is the Community Table front & center, and just behind that is a happening bar with high top tables, and to the right is a counter in front of the demonstration kitchen (which is my favorite spot). Yes, there is a main dining room which is lovely—long and skinny but perfect, and at the far end is a wine room for private parties. Last, but certainly not least, is an intimate outside patio. Perfect. Lots of options.
3) Serious Drinking – Vine has one of the most inventive cocktail programs I have seen. Everything I tried, I loved, and that rarely happens. The staff made it fun with an open-ness toward our whims of experimentation. Some of my friends prefer wine, and here they have 25 wines by the glass, so there is something for everyone. They also have 8 beers on tap, including a local brewski (Trestles from Left Coast Brewing Company is made right here in San Clemente). One thing I learned is that the beer here is more enjoyable because they use 1/6th kegs (5 gallons vs. 20 gallons) and that means the beer is colder and has more carbonation. We are so there.
4) Friendly and Helpful Staff- I don’t really care if the staff is friendly, if they are not helpful. Here you have both. Smiles everywhere and attentive. The team is on it. I observed them helping each other, and pulling together to make sure everyone is pleased with their experience. That goes miles in my book. Well done team!
The menu offers something a parade of choices from small plates, to appetizer nibbles to huge rib eye steaks. I had the pleasure of sampling some stellar menu items, as they unveil their new “summer menu”. Here are some descriptions and pictures of what I enjoyed, however for a complete list of menu items and descriptions, click here for their complete menu of items….. www.vinesanclemente.com/menu.html .
Beers and Burgers- We began at the Community Table, sipping on a beer. I selected the Boont which was an Amber Ale from Anderson Valley. It was crisp, and had that robust finish. Here were the amazing entrees we tasted alongside the beer. The Ravioli was a blending of fantastic flavors, and the crispy sage is always a winner for me. The burgers were so delicious, I literally did not want to let go! The Wine Country Burger had an unusual combination of perfectly blended flavors. I did learn from the Chef that the beef mixture used for the beef is a special blend of Wagu Chuck and Angus Beef Chuck. This special beef mixture is made specifically made for Vine. Of course it is.
-House made English Pea & Garlic Confit Ravioli – pistachio brown butter, white truffle oil, crispy sage, and aged manchego cheese ($12)
-Mexicali Burger- American Kobe beef, queso fresco, avocado, cilantro, chile de arbol crème, sweet onion, and roasted spicy serrano chili’s ($15)
-Wine Country Burger- featuring Spanish mahon cheese, baby arugula, cabernet-bacon jam, marinated tomato and pickled onions ($15)
Cocktails and Apps- We then moved on to the bar, and selecting a beverage was challenging, with so many choices! I picked the Smoke Show Cocktail. This recipe includes: Evan Willams Bourbon, ginger, mint, lemon, a gentle spray of 12 year old aged Scotch, and garnished with a orange peel. It was divine. And there are two “off the menu” items that were equally superb. The locals just know how to order…
1) The One And Done cocktail was made with a vanilla bean infused Bourbon, Cynar (an Italian bitter liqueur made from 13 herbs and plants—predominant amongst these is the artichoke), Drambuie, and a splash of Grand Marnier. Garnish of marinated brandy cherries.
2) The Kentucky Yellow Fever which is made with a white wine aperitif, Bourbon, Drambuie, lemon and orange garnish.
Pairing with the Cocktails we enjoyed the following items….
– Fried Green Tomatoes and Burrata- with crispy serrano ham chicharrones, hazelnut romesco, and oregano oil ($13)
-Duck Wings- This show stopper starts with Duck legs from Newport Beef Company in Orange County. The legs are marinated in a mixture of orange peels, lemon, honey, lime oil, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, thyme, chives and sweet sauce. They are then slow-cooked for 4 hours and flash fried as ordered $13
The Real Deal- The next station was my favorite as it is closest to the kitchen! Watched the chefs work their magic, we enjoyed a selection of wines (they have 25 by the glass) and a Charcuterie that was heavenly.
– Charcuterie- Selection of cured meats, cold cuts & crostini (half order is $11 and full order $19) This wooden tray included: Italian salami, marinated olives, Humbolt Fog cheese, Manchego Cheese, Smoked Blue Cheese, St. Andre’s Triple Cream. This platter is complemented by an amazing array of breads, including: a walnut bread, country rustic and Ciabatta from OC Baking Company—our good friend baker Dean Kim.
A Reward…Dessert- Oatmeal raisin cookie crumble – apple strudel ice cream and bourbon caramel $9. The ice cream really did taste just like apple strudel. Chef uses Florentino’s in Cypress to craft these special flavors of ice cream. They make highly creative specialty ice cream, such as lavender just about anything Jared dreams up. Jared brings flavor ideas to them, and they produce it. There is a minimum order, so this is not ideal for the home cook, but what a wonderful resource Jared has found!
There’s No “I” In Team- It is rare that I go to a restaurant for the first time and just fall for the entire Management Team, but that is just what happened here. Owner Russ deserves big kudos for assembling such a dynamic team. One key that is crucial to a good team is that each one bring something unique and complimentary to the group. And that is just what is at work here–leadership, an amazing chef, stellar cocktail program, and on the mark with operations. Sprinkle on top of that an affable and attentive staff, and you just have the “perfect recipe” for success. Let’s meet the team…
Russ Bendel the Owner, and is originally from Philly. A Cal Poly graduate, he was the youngest Partner of Fleming’s Steakhouse at the age of 25, is a Sommelier, and continues to donate his time to support the restaurant industry and future generations. Jared Cook, the Executive Chef and Partner, hails from the Pacific Northwest. He attended the Western Culinary Institute in Portland, Oregon. Parachuting down here to Southern California, he has worked in a number of highly regarded kitchens we all recognize—French 75, Chat Noir, Crow Bar and Kitchen, and now Vine. Jared uses organic fruits, vegetables and meats. Local and sustainable are mantras, and he even has his own garden on-site. He takes great pride in hand-selecting much of his produce, herbs and works closely with all of his cherry-picked vendors, some of whom I have mentioned in this article. Kyle Simpson, is the Operating Partner. He is a OC native. With two BS degrees in Business & Operations, he caught the restaurant bug working for a large restaurant group. Later he joined Roy’s and now is elevating operations and service at Vine, and enjoying every moment of it. Gabe Whorley is Partner, and a San Clemente native, so let’s just say this is home. Tending bar for more years than he cares to admit, Gabe opened Blue Coral Seafood, The Resort at Pelican Hill, and then worked alongside one of OC’s premier mixologists, Gabrielle Dion, at Charlie Palmer’s in South Coast Plaza. Scanning the cocktail menu, Gabe’s influence is everywhere—renovating old classic cocktails, with seasonal fruits, herbs and at the same time paying homage to the core spirits. His signature style and finesse are front and center here at the bar, and he trains his team to all deliver the best drinks possible. Cheers Gabe!
I will be back very soon and encourage those in the area, or just driving by to check this out. It is two minutes off the freeway, and a world apart from the standard fare. Dine well….
Vine Restaurant & Bar
211 N. El Camino Real
San Clemente, CA 92672
Monday: 5:30pm-9:30pm (yes, now open Monday’s)