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The media is often treated to construction stage, pre-open glimpses of works in progress called “hard hat tours.” They require a leap of faith and, often, a lot of imagination. This is particularly true when a venue is a little outside-the-box or the first of its kind.

This week, I donned an imaginary construction cap and entered an almost-finished, yet mostly naked new spot unlike any other in San Diego. Actually, at its core, it’s not terribly different from any other restaurant. It’s a place to go and eat. It’s the facility that houses it that makes it unique to the local scene.

The restaurant is called Vintana. The latest in the Cohn Restaurant Group family of eateries, it’s installed on the top floor of the new 300,000 square foot Lexus dealership in Escondido. That’s right—a car dealership. See…different.

The venue is actually planned to house numerous commercial tenants in the future, most of which will occupy the building’s second floor. Vintana is the first arrival, a cornerstone on which to help build this retail city of sorts.

Coming in, you’d think you were at any other car dealership, albeit a huge one stocked with rides so sweet they’d give my wallet type two diabetes. Life on the second and third floors offers a different atmosphere (though, with views of the showroom, several offices, and a room adjacent to the Vintana lobby where new owners can learn all about their fancy new Lexi, one remains distinctly aware of the building’s primary purpose).

As far as the restaurant goes, the photos I took give a rough idea of what things will look like, but without furnishings, staff running to and fro, and diners taking up space and dinnerware sets, the only thing that’s clear is there will be a lot of view to take in. Westward views from the floor-to-ceiling windows provide an opportunity to catch a pretty sunset against a silhouette of rolling hills.

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It’s easier to take in that view from an open-air outdoor terrace that is already equipped with some nice patio furniture as well as fire pits. That spot gives way to an event area that can be rented out and is already home to a concert series.

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Vintana’s menu will be made up of California modern cuisine from longtime San Diego chef and culinary lifeblood of the CRG, Deborah Scott. Menu items include langoustine sweet corn fritters with honey-bacon crème fraiche, and blackberry-glazed bison spare ribs served over bacon-pecan waffles. The latter, which I was able to sample, has great sweetness and texture and makes a case for ditching fried chicken for this tender, gamey option.

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Boutique wines as well as a vodka lounge said to be stocked with over 100 varieties of the crystal clear spirit will form the backbone of the beverage program. Only a restaurant sequestered inside a car dealership could make a century-strong vodka bar into a buried detail at the end of a pre-open piece.

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It will be interesting to see how this venue fares. The food is good, the ownership is sound. There’s a lot to be said for that. If nothing else, this man of means by no means just found a reason to enter a Lexus dealership.

Vintana will be located inside The Centre at Lexus Escondido at 1205 Auto Parkway.

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