When West Roxbury’s Vintage opened its doors a couple of years ago, its arrival had South Shore diners abuzz. After all, an upscale, yet affordable steakhouse was a rare find (no pun intended). Vintage also lived up to its very definition: its ambience and fare were characterized by excellence, maturity and enduring appeal. Well, save for the last part: co-owner Jeffrey Fournier, who heads the highly esteemed 51 Lincoln in Newtonville, abruptly parted ways with the restaurant’s founding owners, leaving Vintage with a bit of an identity crisis and ultimately forcing its short-term closure. It now boasts a new ownership team, a revitalized menu, and even cheaper prices. Would Paul’s Palate find that this particular Vintage has aged well over time or would this establishment leave a sour taste in his mouth?
One thing is blatantly obvious: Vintage’s menu selection has undergone a drastic makeover. In lieu of quality cuts of steak tailored for the more carnivorous crowd, Executive Chef Brian Roskow and Sous Chef Claudinei Desouza have opted for a more eclectic selection of culinary offerings that include a variety of pastas, pizzas, meats, and seafood. These meals are presented as ‘family style dining,’ and the menu has more of an American Italian feel to it than its predecessor’s New American theme.
Vintage should be commended for its attempt to serve Halloween-inspired cocktails. Those that we sampled, however, were downright ghastly, as both concoctions possessed exorbitant amounts of straight alcohol while lacking any distinct, sweet flavor.
Appetizers were only a slight improvement. Calamari fritte were thankfully not overly fried and doughy, and yet were disappointingly bland and forgettable. Sam Adams-steamed mussels fared much better and the ale-flavored broth made for a wonderfully succulent, soppy dipping sauce for accompanying pieces of buttery garlic bread. My lone complaint of this dish was that it lacked muscles – ahem, mussels, since three shells were mysteriously devoid of the tasty mollusks.
Entrees were equally hit-or-miss. My wife’s veal parmigiana (sans cheese given my wife’s dairy allergy) was lightly breaded, lean, and perfectly cooked, not to mention the zesty red sauce in which it was slathered. A companion and I, however, order woefully overcooked seared rare ahi tuna (our deeply apologetic server informs us that the kitchen has had continuous problems that evening preparing this dish). In addition, a heaping side of ratatouille, while tasty, was an awkward, heavy pairing that simply overwhelmed the tuna’s light consistency.
Desserts, however, almost made this reviewer forget the evening’s prior culinary miscues. A flourless molten chocolate cake erupted with piping hot chocolate, and was one of the finest I’ve consumed in recent memory. For the more health conscious, a champagne-soaked pear doused with caramel and whipped cream was a light, yet comforting consolation prize.
Although its prices are better than ever (appetizers from $8-12, most pastas and meats ranging between $15-25), Vintage’s overall value appears to have depreciated over time given the substandard quality of its food. Clearly, its fare lacks the confidence and experimental touch of Fournier, its former proprietor. If tradition is what the new owners are staking their claim upon, their dishes must shine. Unfortunately, Paul’s Palate has found that Vintage’s initial, promising luster has worn off.