After a fire that closed The Vineyard Wine Bar & Bistro for half of its short life so far, you really want to pull for owner Joe Lertch.
Two years ago, Lertch fulfilled a dream in opening a place in Rehoboth, sister to his established Vineyard Wine Bar in Havre de Grace, Maryland, only to lose it a few months later—barely enough time to build the kind of following that keeps the best beach restaurants humming year after year.
Yet the first iteration of Lertch’s Rehoboth Vineyard had won enough attention from regulars in Havre de Grace and earned enough local devotees to make a year of insurance headaches and rebuilding worth the effort. The beautifully remodeled Vineyard that stands before us today after a steady nine months of business—even after missing a crucial summer—is a testament to loyalty. That loyalty is perhaps testament to the power of wine.
Lertch’s dream after decades in the wine business was to create a relaxed restaurant where anyone would feel comfortable exploring wine—either independently or through formal events—while enjoying food that was its equal. This he has done—very nearly.
The wine program is pitch-perfect. Given Lertch’s vast connections, he changes Vineyard’s list of about 80 bottles with some regularity. A third of the wines hail from domestic makers, the rest from every important winemaking region of the world. Most bottles ring in at less than $50, with many below $30. All wines except reserve bottles are available by the glass or as 3-ounce pours. The list is organized not by style but by color and weight (light-bodied, medium-bodied, etc.) That makes wide sampling easy and eminently affordable, and it certainly helps food matching (though tasting notes would be a nice touch).
The menu of small plates is similarly organized by weight, listing light-bodied, medium-bodied and heavy dishes, in addition to cheeses, pates, charcuterie, salads and flatbreads—all wonderful wine foods. Most dishes feature a range of textures and contrapuntal flavors. On the light end were a wild mushroom tart and Spanish hummus made with piquillo peppers and smoked paprika. On the other pole: filet of beef in rosemary demi-glace with truffled mashed potatoes and roasted cauliflower. The execution in some cases, however, needs tuning.
It was a happy accident that we ordered a glass of Chateau Ducasse Sauvignon Blanc (Bordeaux) based on nothing more than a craving. It proved a perfect match for a big bowl of mussels sautéed in shallot cream, the wine’s citrus playing well against the smoky sauce and rendering the cream into silk on the palate.
A salad of mixed greens,pecans, goat cheese and roasted golden beets touched with spiced-rum dressing.//photo by Maria DeForrest
The wine also stood up to the piquant spiced-rum dressing of a salad of mixed greens with pecans, goat cheese and roasted golden beets. The candied bacon that clinched the order proved little more than bits of nearly uncooked breakfast meat with little trace of sugar, but no matter. It was otherwise a nicely balanced plate.
The Ducasse—as well as a Lamberti sparkling rose—played well with even more goat cheese on a flatbread of sautéed mushrooms married with caramelized onions and a ramekin of sweetened lemon on the side. The bread was perfectly crisped, with golden edges, the topping delicious. I found the lemon sauce cloying and thick, more like a dessert topping. My partner loved it.
At a wine bar, why not more cheese? Under the circumstances, the baked Brie (a personal weakness) was irresistible, yet the crust lacked the flaky layering of a good puff pastry, the raspberry coulis-yogurt combination was unartfully pooled on the plate, the toasted almonds unceremoniously served on the side instead of atop the crust, where they would have added some contrast with the main event. Total fail? Not at all. It is very hard to go wrong with warm, softened Brie.
Meat lovers will enjoy offerings such as venison and short rib. We opted for a tenderloin of boar with a delicious rub seared to a perfect medium rare. A drizzle of strawberry-rhubarb syrup was a perfect complement, the charred carrots sweet and toothsome. The accompanying puree of sweet potato and rutabaga was, however, bitter. I’ll assume the kitchen strikes the correct balance more often than not.
(From Left): Tenderloin of boar, seared medium rare and served with charred carrots, sweet potato and rutabaga puree and a drizzle of strawberry-rhubarb syrup.; Mussels sautéed in shallot cream.//photos by Maria Deforrest
All was redeemed in the salmon Wellington, which tweaks both the classic beef dish and the standard treatment of poached salmon in a delicious and amusing way. Wild-caught Alaskan salmon cream cheese are baked in a pastry that stands in for Yorkshire pudding, served halved, with a pile of capers, diced red onion and a tangy dill crème fraiche on the side.
The salmon was a highlight of what, overall, was a perfectly enjoyable experience. Who knew the dish could be outdone? Intrigued by the idea of wine ice cream, we had to try it. The only comparison is the rum flavor in rum-raisin ice cream, yet more subtle, with Ben & Jerry’s-scale chunks of dark chocolate and marinated cherries. It was the most fitting way to end the meal.
The Vineyard Wine Bar & Bistro
28 Wilmington Ave., Rehoboth Beach • 567-2094
Recommended: mussels sautéed in shallot cream, salmon Wellington, wine ice cream
Prices: salads: $9-$14; flatbreads: $14-$17; small plates: $9-$24; wines by the glass: $6-$17.50