the harvest vine
the harvest vine is a confident restaurant.
from the moment you enter, it’s as if you’re in your grandmother’s house as a child. not because there are dustables or a porch swing, but because you know you’ll be taken care of, you’ll be well fed, and because grandma knows how to make you feel like you’re an adult.
because harvest vine is so confident in it’s food and vision, it knows that not coddling (most) people is actually what makes them feel most comfortable. our server didn’t try to obscure the fact that he had other tables to attend to. he wasn’t concerned if our silverware was set a bit haphazardly – and neither were we. we didn’t have to think about our silverware at all; it was always there, and clean, when we needed it to be. so were the wine, food, and anything else we could need, and usually before we realized we needed it.
he was direct, but kind, efficient but not sloppy. had we needed hand holding, he could have given it, but he was able to sense it wasn’t necessary.
and the food…oh, the food. it is the food that inspires the confidence. flavors are clear and unmuddied by one another. anchovies are allowed to taste like anchovies, squid like squid. and with confidence comes the ability to be playful. pressing a knife into the stuffed squid reveals the that squids own tentacles are acting as the stuffing. an amuse of golden beet sorbet and candied hazelnuts was at once a dessert and an appetizer.
to my surprise, my favorite dishes didn’t include the beef tongue, as fantastic as it was, fried in egg, meaty rather than tonguey and topped with fresh peas. nor was it (though it almost was) the lamb, tender, delicate, and rich, served simply and perfectly with fried potatos.
the dishes i really loved were straightforward and unexpected. the baby spinach. sauteed with pine nuts, raisins, and sherry, it was neither crunchy or overdone, and it made me forget every stringy spinach experience of my life. the nuts and raisins were the perfect contrasts – crunch and sweet – but the sherry, with all of its rich funkiness, was the beating heart of the creation.
and then there were the scallop croquetas, four of them lying in an understated row. a special that night (i hate knowing they won’t be there when i go back), they resembled fish fingers only in appearance. the breading was crunchy and hot, the fish dainty and silky. it was fried food at its best – the oil donated richness and texture without leaving greasy evidence.
the one dish i couldn’t get into was the chorizo with chocolate pudding. i love the chorizo with bittersweet chocolate shavings at txori and suppose i wasn’t expecting something so literally pudding-like as we got. the chorizo was sliced and laid atop (an aesthetically wise decision) what seemed to be handi-snacks pudding (i’m sure it was home-made, but it doesn’t really matter).
harvest vine also has one of the vastest selections of sherry in the city, not to mention spanish wine. when the garage door is pulled open in the front of the restaurant, and the lushness of madison valley is revealed, it becomes one of the most comfortable places to dine. the open kitchen can act as your heat lamp if need be.
i get caught up keeping up with new restaurants, to the extent that a long time can pass between visits to old favorites. even though the harvest vine is where all my food-conscious friends want to go for their birthday, within-walking-distance txori (related by owner to the harvest vine) is usually where i end up. my dinner at the hv inspired me to change, and to remember that some qualities can only come from ten years of existence.