Fans of the $40 pasta and wine tasting at Grotto will totally dig the $55 4-course dinner with paired wines at Vinalia. It's also an awesome value, with arguably better food.
The cooking's great. I especially appreciate the restraint and discipline from the kitchen -- instead of showy high flung dishes, they send out exemplary examples of very precise cooking and effective, well-edited flavour combinations that suit their respective wines.
The delicious simplicity played out over and over again: a pair of seared scallops gets great support from the sweetness of snap peas and a beautifully fanned out piece of caramelized pear. Another more subtle level of sweetness and complexity in the fizzy, fine bubbled and generally suave '98 Iron Horse (Russian River Valley) sparkling white.
Then one of the best preparations of duck breast I've had in a while reveals a mild smoky flavour, like a very good ham. Simplicity again, with a touch of wintry sweetness from mashed parsnips and crispy sweet potato chips for texture to make for a tight composition. An elegant, well-structured Oregon Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley (hope I got this right) matches perfectly cherry-like fruit against the duck.
A cabernet sauvignon of ripe fruit and deep dusk is paired with beef sirloin, a nice mild livery musk in the firm, moist meat. Roasted sweet potatoe wedges ad string beans make good understated sides, sopping up the juices.
Soft custardy cream (like creme sans brulee) carries a rich vanilla flavour. It sits in a gossamer-thin pastry (filo?) cup, as crispy as can be. A mango sauce adds an appropriate level of excitment. This is paired with a late harvest Chardonnay, an even wine, well balanced with pleasant floral notes.
The sparkling and dessert wines were full pours and the reds in between were about half to a quarter glass worth. It's a substantial amount of very good wine. Nitpickers might notice that the menu mentioned slightly different wines for the tasting, but the substitutions were pricie; no complaints from me here.
BTW, plenty of wines by the glass, mostly high singles to very low teens. I woudn't mind hanging out there for a glass or two. Entrees max out at $19 and average $17.
Vinalia's at 101 Arch Street (617) 737-1777
They're open for lunch and dinner.