Vinoteca 902 in Wilmington, DE--big thumbs up
I had lunch today with three colleagues at Vinoteca, Julio Lazzarini's new place, and I must say I was highly impressed. For the most part, the food was really excellent, even better than the dishes I've had at Orillas. I wanted to order most of the items on the menu, which looked great. The four of us split the crispy-fried rock shrimp and an order of lobster empanadas to start. The shrimp was absolutely delicious, not batter-fried but just flash-fried, with a bit of spice, a very fine aji-based sauce, and cilantro on top. The lobster empanadas (four to a serving) were good too, but not as good as that shrimp--I found the empanada dough a little dry. For my entree, I had pasta with artichoke hearts, fennel, onion, and tomato sauce. I don't even like tomato sauce, and I rarely order pasta when I go out, but this dish was amazingly tasty--the caramelized fennel made the whole thing. There was more pasta than I could eat (not unusual for me) and overall the portions were quite generous. Two of my colleagues had the salmon over quinoa, which looked fabulous although I didn't eat any, and one had the French onion soup. Everyone seemed quite pleased. We didn't have time for dessert, sadly, but I will definitely go back for it!
Vinoteca was decently well populated on a Thursday at 1 PM. I really, really hope this place succeeds in what has been, up to now, a cursed location. It is certainly the best food I've ever had in the space. I might make a dinner reservation for next week, when we have tickets for an 8 PM show at the Grand.
If the chef is reading this, here are the things I'd improve: (1) the salad choices, which were on the dull side and not up to the creative level of the rest of the menu, and (2) the tea you serve. People who don't drink coffee shouldn't be subjected to a depressing diner-esque container of low-end tea bags while their coffee-drinking friends get beautiful cappucinos in stylish glass cups! Also, your website doesn't show the menus on Firefox :-)
Follow up after another business lunch at Vinoteca today. I'd eaten there a couple of times for dinner last winter, but hadn't been back for about 5 months.
As I knew already, the menu has been significantly altered. Crushingly, the rock shrimp is no longer on there, and things have moved to a more tapas-oriented theme. Between three of us, we started out with seven plates; I was pretty stuffed after that but my two (larger) colleagues kept going and ordered four more (and then got dessert!)
The plates I tasted included the grilled octopus pintxo, Moroccan beets, merguez sausage, goat cheese-spinach empanadas, a roasted cauliflower special, lamb-beef polpette, mixed green salad, hummus, and harissa chicken pintxo. Of those, the standouts in my opinion were the chicken pintxo, the empanadas, the cauliflower, and the hummus. I had high hopes for the grilled octopus pintxo, and indeed what there was of it was very tasty, but the portion of octopus was so microscopic that I almost started laughing (literally, three tiny squares the size of ten-cent stamps, with a pile of beans). The merguez was under-spiced, although I liked the lentils that came with it, and the polpette were also on the dull side. The green salad was undistinguished.
I tasted one of the desserts also and was seriously underwhelmed--it was described as champage-soaked strawberries on vanilla cake with strawberry mousse and coconut, and looked and tasted like it had come straight out of a Sara Lee box. Very disappointing. My other colleague got a mandarin orange cake, which I did not taste, but which he wasn't wild about; about half of it got left on his plate. It also had a very Sara Lee look about it, almost identical to the strawberry thing.
I should have gone back and re-read my original review before lunch today, because once again I ordered a tea at the end of the meal and got that same damn diner container of crappy tea bags. Please, someone at Vinoteca, read these posts and do something about this!!
I will say that I was highly impressed with the wine offerings, which I hadn't looked hard enough at in my previous visits. One of my companions is a real wine guy and he got not one, but two flights at lunch (it was a long lunch!), with favorable comments on three out of the six offerings. It is very nice that Vinoteca offers so many wines by the glass; the list is very long and very diverse. Definitely much better than average performance here.
Vinoteca is still better than most of the rest of the restaurants on Market St. (except for Orillas) but I am sad to say that the food is not nearly as impressive now as when they started. Still, it is a good choice for a business lunch or a good dinner. I still give the edge to Domaine Hudson (who are no longer doing lunch, unfortunately) but Vinoteca is worth patronizing, if only to keep alive one more decent restaurant in downtown Wilmington.