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Well color me surprised: Arroyo Vino isn’t good, it’s freakin’ phenomenal. Sorry in advance for the long write-up…
The restaurant had been on my radar for a while just because the “small plates with an adjoining wine shop” concept seemed like a layup even if the chow was only OK, and even if it was way the heck out in Las Campanas. But the chow isn’t only OK, it’s easily the best upscale food I can think of anywhere in the state.
Long winded semi-aside: when my better half and I lived in the Boston area, there was no shortage of ways to hemorrhage our hard-earned cash on high-end dining. We were lucky enough to slowly dine our way through the marquee places around town, from the stuffy Parisian formality of L’Espalier to the aggressive rusticness of Craigie on Main. But the place we kept coming back to was a small, somewhat off-the-radar bistro on a Cambridge side street named Salts. Salts’ chef, Gabriel Bremer, was a Ferran Adria disciple, but rather than using molecular gastronomy techniques to create a cerebral, boundary pushing art project, he chose to focus on farm-to-table deliciousness first and foremost, with the occasional flourish of molecular gastronomy punctuating his dishes for effect. Much of Salts’ produce came from their own farm in Vermont, and preparations tended to be understated, giving the excellent ingredients a chance to stand on their own merits. But many of the dishes also sported just a dash of MG to keep your interest, for example we once had a roasted fish dish topped with black truffle “caviar”, engineered little edible pearls that would burst with a delicate truffled liquid when bitten into.
So all of this is a roundabout way of saying that although it’s impressive that Mark Connell, Arroyo Vino’s executive chef, studied at CIA Greystone and worked at French Laundry, I’m much more excited that he worked under Gabriel Bremer at Salts. The food uses a very similar playbook, starting with top-notch ingredients (some from AV’s own garden), employing many relatively simple preparations (unlike Salts, leaning a little more Italian than French), and throwing in the occasional molecular gastronomic twist to make the experience unusual, playful, and fun. AV’s menu is seasonal and market driven, thus it changes frequently, but a few highlights from our visit: heirloom tomatoes with goat cheese sorbet and olive oil croquant (this last was a little crystallized candy filled with a robust olive oil), a special of sweetbreads, impossibly light pan fried gnocchi, and a sous vide egg, and an unbelievable Colorado peach soufflé. The daily specials are purported to be the most experimental items offered, I’ll be excited to get back to try more of them.
Circling back to the rest of the concept, the adjoining wine store is a tremendous value add, especially at the high end: you can bring any of their 600+ bottles over from the store for a flat $20 markup over the retail price. Tons of excellent, fairly priced selections, with a lot of emphasis on Italy, France, and Spain. And although there are some bottles it would be a crime to drink right away (just-released Bordeaux and Brunello), there are plenty of choices that are totally ready to drink.
Arroyo Vino has cultivated a semi-casual bistro vibe, with wood floors, colored metal chairs, and chalkboard specials. It’s a bit loud for an upscale restaurant, but not deafening. The well-trained staff is just about bouncing out of their shoes with excitement over the great product they’re turning out, which is in turns sweet and slightly exasperating; it’s one of those restaurants where it takes an extra 30 seconds per dish for them to recite all the different components. Prices are quite high and worth every penny: $5 - $10 for the smallest “bites”, $15 - $20 for tapas-sized “plates”, and a couple of full-sized entrees in the high $20s or low $30s.
The only drawback is the Las Campanas location – it’s a “Santa Fe shlep” (almost 20 minutes from downtown) to get out there, but it’s dramatically faster and cheaper than hopping a flight to Boston to go to Salts, so I’ll go ahead and keep my yap shut.
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