Walter Mencken 6:15 p.m., Feb. 28
At Village Vino, the staff doesn't pull any punches in terms of wine
Back in July, Mary Beth Abate did a thorough job of getting at what Village Vino is all about. The Kensington wine bar gets ahold of interesting vintages from small New- and Old World vineyards. Owner Rita Pirkl is an obvious wine buff and it’s clear that the wine bar is as much an expression of her passion for the grape as it is a business venture. Many of the wines seem to be priced affordably if purchased by the bottle, and a nominal discount for retail purchases further encourages customers to buy and drink more wine. This is just an educated guess, but I surmise wine prices at Village Vino run much closer to retail value than the same wines would in a conventional restaurant.
Having heard good things about the place, I popped in with a group of friends. It’s an interesting concept, and mostly well executed, but not without its quirks. I got the feeling that Pirkl, and some of the other staff members, are experienced in wine and much less so in table service and hospitality. Their tableside manner involved much shrewd criticism of my party’s wine decisions. This is not in keeping with the longstanding tradition of restaurant sommeliers, most of whom keep their extensive knowledge in check while they attempt to make the guest feel superior in his or her taste.
For me, Pirkl and company’s direct manner was a breath of fresh air. I basically threw myself in their hands and asked for something delicious. I was justly rewarded for doing so. My friend, on the other hand, felt wholly intimidated at the implication that her choice in wine was insufficient and that she could expect disappointment, even from a good wine, if we weren’t willing to shell out for another excellent one. I stuck up for her as best I could, but there was no denying the truth of what we were hearing.
They’re straight shooters at Village Vino, I’ll give them that.
And I’d say keep it that way. It’s a great opportunity for a little education.
Mary Beth had also said that Village Vino planned to add more food to the menu than what they opened with. Six months later, I found the food to be problematic. I tried some hummus, and a $12 smoked salmon flatbread plate that featured three little rounds of toast with creme fraiche, salmon, and a lovely dotting of caviar. I hate to grouse, but I think I could get equal amounts of salmon for half the price at some local coffee shops.
I would like to see the food at village vino being given away for as little as possible in order to facilitate more and better wine drinking. The little snacks and bites are hard pressed to compose an entire meal, and I would have felt more strongly encouraged to explore the wine menu if the food had been a non-issue in terms of cost, quantity, or quality. To wit, make the food act as an excuse to drink more. Everybody likes that kind of excuse.