I will start by saying I have not been a fan of Wolfgang Puck's restaurants (with the exception of Spago). I also am pre-disposed (through experience) to believe that restaurants in malls, amusement parks, or other places the public gathers en mass are often geared toward a demographic less concerned with meal quality than the convenience of location.
For these reasons I avoided eating at Vert. I read positive reviews here and other places, but still felt no great need to brave the mall for a Wolfgang Puck Pizza.
I was wrong. I had a very enjoyable, well paced, well attended dinner for 4 last night that makes me consider putting Vert on my list of "places to take out of towners" when they visit.
We started with Cocktails at the bar. My Gimlet was made with fresh lime juice. Which is rarer than you might think.
Our reserves were for 8:00, but we were enjoying the bar (our bartendress was a lot of fun) and they made no effort to hurry us along. They politely said they would hold our table until we were ready to be seated. A nice gesture despite the fact that it was a Monday, and the place was hardly packed (though busier than I thought a mall could be at 8pm on a chilly Monday night).
We finally sat down about 8:30. We were offered a choice of waters (I hate that). I said tap and she let it go at that (phew). Immediately we were brought a piping hot plate of Fritti Misto compliments of the chef. I do not know if this was an "amuse bouche" sort of customary gesture or if we were just lucky. Either way it made me feel special. It was hot, crunchy, very light--not at all greasy. I was prepared to consider it tasty but merely adequate until I bit into a fabulously tart bit of fried lemon rind. I have never eaten that before and enjoyed the surprise of it.
For starters I had a lovely and simply prepared steak tar-tare with a potent mustard condiment. Just a few bites, but I enjoyed every one of them. Someone else had a dozen beautifully briney oysters, another friend had a salad of Radiccio and Romaine with a Caesar dressing, it was comforting in it's familiarity yet somehow a bit better than expected. My vegan dining companion (and host) had a special salad they made up for him that was more of a baby crudite platter. Very artful.
Mains included a Lamb Osso Bucco which looked good to me, but was reportedly a bit too rich for my friend.
The NY Steak Frites were a hit (as we ALL ate some of the fries). My Vegan friend had a Penne Arrabbiate whose sauce was thick and rich with a roasted tomato flavor. (the sauce may have been a bit too plentiful, but I am nit picking here). It also seemed a bit under spiced to me but my friend reported a pleasant tingling sensation on his tongue long after the meal had ended. I had a thin Roman style crispy Pizza-like thing called Tarte Flambe Alsace. It was topped with sweet caramelized onions, fromage blanc and little lardons of pancetta. Every bit as good as it sounds.
We also had a couple of bottles of a Il Poggione Rosso di Montalcino 2000. It was a nice and "chewy", notes of cherry and red plums enough to perfectly balance the tannis. If you have not had a Rosso di Montalcino before I recommend you look for it. It is like the little brother of a pricey Brunello. Grown on younger Brunello vines and served relatively young, it is always a bargain for the bang it delivers.
Thank you Mr. Puck...