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Dec 7, 2006 12:20 AM

Vertical Wine Bistro in Pasadena - Early Returns?

A waiter at Mozza (the best one we had there) recommended that I check out Vertical Wine Bistro. I see it just opened a few weeks ago - there were a couple of posts but so far, not much info re the food. Has anyone tried it in the last couple weeks? Care to report?


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  1. The food was fine -- not quite up to the AOC level, but everything we ordered was tasty.

    -Charcuterie:country pate, lomo and soppressata. These were fine if a little lacking in nuance. The plate came with peppers and pickles.

    -Fig Poppers: these were amazing, stuffed with blue cheese and ham. Sweet and savory.

    -Polenta: good, but nothing totally mind-blowing. After 5 minutes it was completely cold.

    -Bay Scallops: these were really tasty, though I could not quite distinguish them visually from the mushrooms they were mixed with. I think there were only 4 in the order.

    -Pulled Pork: pretty good, but not what I was expecting. it was almost like a side of ham.

    -Braised Pork Ribs: also good. Can't recall the details.

    The waitress was a little spotty. She couldn't remember the word "soprassetta" for instance, and sort of rushed off after each order instead of announcing what we'd ordered. We were about to ask her about the flavors of the gelatto we had for desert, but she zoomed off after dropping the plate at our table. Also, we ordered a pasta dish with truffles, and when we ordered it the waitress told us they would shave the truffles at our table. But when the dish arrived the truffles were already shaved onto the pasta. Additionally, she told us that the plates were "small plates" -- most of them were, but the pulled pork, truffled pasta, and pork ribs were more entree sized, and we ended up with way more food than the 4 of us could eat.

    The wine flights are really the highlight of the joint. They come bundled into regional flights like "Paso Robles Syrahs" or "French Burgundies" -- I think they change these groupings often.

    Overall, I enjoyed it, it's a good addition to the area -- I may go back occasionaly and sit at the bar with those wine flights. But if you're near AOC or some of the other wine bars in the Hollywood/West Hollywood area there's no need to go out of your way (unless, of course, you want to).

    1. I went there last week. I posted this in a Pasadena-themed thread, but it might have gotten lost in the shuffle.

      My overall impression of the place is that it's got a warm, sophisticated feel to it. The menu was created by Sara Levine, who opened Opus after stints at Zax and Aubergine, among others. The offerings consist of various small plates, meant to be shared, and for which there is a dizzying array of wines by the glass. We tried the fig poppers, charcuterie plate, salt cod brandade, and pulled pork. The pulled pork was sinfully rich, almost dessert-like (though not too sweet). This item, and others in the "meat" section of the menu, are slightly larger plates but still meant to be shared.

      The brandade is unusual; you either like it or you don't. The 5-meat charcuterie plate was a real treat, served with small slices of lightly grilled rustic bread and a garnish of cornichons, pickled jalapenos (actually, there were also a couple of other, skinnier pickled peppers both red and green). Several other items sounded quite enticing.

      We finished with a dessert that had chocolate cake and caramelized bananas, but I can't remember exactly what it was called.

      1. Jack Flash is right--Vertical is very good. I have been there three times now. They serve bread with a red pepper tapenade that is a little spicy and very flavorful, a great idea. I don't like the parmesan crackers much--they have never been quite crisp enough, and the baguette slices go with the spread better. I've tried the rabbit rilette, which was great but needed a few more toast points, the brioche-bun hamburger was outrageously good, and the duck confit was everything you want it to be, with cippoline onions--my daughter actually couldn't decide which she liked better, the burger or the duck! This from a kid! We also had a side of perfect mushrooms. The cookie plate had way more cookies than we could eat, all of which were refigerator cold, and was lacking the promised nougat (the reason I had ordered it.) Last time I went I had pulled pork, which was fantastic. I can't remember the other dish, but it was perfect. I am very impressed. I think Vertical is comparable to AOC, but less expensive. The apple tart was about five times too big for two people, and was a little heavy and doughy, but I'm very picky about desserts. All in all, I can't recommend Vertical enough! Don't miss it!

        1. I enjoyed my one visit very much. Large selection of wines, endearing and knowledgeable staff. Food is not necessarily spectacular, but solid all around.

          A good addition to Old Town.

          1. Had it not tried to pass itself off as an imaginative, tapas-based California wine bistro, I wouldn’t be so critical. The comparisons with A.O.C. by other Chowhound reviewers are a joke.

            The nicest part of VWB is the entryway. You walk up 2 “flights” of stairs (get it?) to get to the restaurant.

            Red flag: Clueless hostess. We had an 8:30 reservation, and were told it would be 15 minutes before our table was ready, and she hustled us over to the bar area. My wife is thoroughly convinced restaurants do this on purpose to get you to buy more alcohol (highest profit margin) than you normally would. We weren’t falling for that one. In my opinion, a nice restaurant like this should comp you a glass of wine when they make you wait that long. They’re new kids on the block, costs them close to nothing, and in return they have a customer for life.

            Two minutes later, a waitress came over and offered to seat us at the bar area instead of in the dining room. We declined because of the music, noise level and lack of intimacy in the bar. One minute later our table was miraculously ready! I was starting to buy into my wife’s theory.

            The menu was surprisingly sparse, so we were hoping for specials. Nope – sorry, pal. Plus they were out of the four most enticing dishes on the already small menu.

            My wife ordered a Pinot Grigio and I had a Sauvignon Blanc. Hers was good, and mine was....hard to tell what it was! It tasted like it had been opened 3 days ago and left out. My wife took a sip, and said it was also corked. Boy, we sure were off to a great start! They apologized and got us a suitable replacement.

            The food was just average bar food. Fried Calamari worthy of TGIF’s, LAX. The salad was thrown together without a thought – greens from one of those assortment bags you get from Ralph’s and golf-ball sized chunks of goat cheese haphazardly tossed on the plate.

            Their by-the-glass wine list was grossly overpriced and limited to the Southern California selection you typically find at Trader Joe’s and Vons. Unimaginative and mass-produced. Their wine list by the bottle had much more to offer.

            My wife ordered a second glass of wine—the Iron Horse Chardonnay, and said it tasted like it had been sitting out for several days. She complained, sent it back requesting the Grigio she had previously. This one was as flat as the others. My second glass was a Pinot Noir from Inman that had clearly lost its fruit and had no body. By this time, we were beaten down. We threw in the towel and got the check. We didn’t even bother with dessert or coffee.

            We had 4 dishes and 4 glasses of wine. The bill was over $100.

            The final touch was getting our car. The queue for the valet was really long, and everyone was impatient. The people in front of us were complaining that when the valet returned their car, it had a parking ticket on it! It took about 10 minutes to get our car. There was only one valet guy to handle the crowd. Everyone in line was complaining about their dining experience.