Restaurant Reviews

Days of Wine and Poseurs

I was sipping a glass of Australian Shiraz at Vin Amante, a new wine bar on Española Way, marveling at just how many crummy dining establishments could be crammed into one short stretch of this quaintly sweet street. On the night of our visit Vin Amante's tiny dining room contained faint fumes of fresh paint, so we sat outside at one of a half-dozen wicker tables in front (a back-yard patio will be open soon). This is a self-described "European wine and cheese bar with a bit of New Orleans flavor," the menu comprising an antipasto plate, a few salads, and two warm snacks. The only evident Big Easy-influenced dish is described as "brick oven-roasted Creole stone crab gratinée made with Marsala wine, charred tomato sauce, and shaved Parmesan."

What landed on our table, which was so low as to necessitate picking the plate up and placing it on my lap, was a soufflé cup filled with a thin, pleasantly spicy stew of Creole's holy trinity -- tomatoes, onions, and peppers. A baked Parmesan crisp capped the cup, which contained very few shreds of crab; just as well, as stone crabs lose their sweetness when heated. I wondered: How do they roast crabs in a brick oven if there is no brick oven?

During the week Española Way is a delight, but on weekends it turns into a loud, tacky bazaar. So there I was, sitting in the midst of it all, swirling the Shiraz in my thick, graceless glass, inhaling the aromas, and declaring the wine to have a fruity bouquet punctuated by surprising hints of tobacco and incense. Then my wife pointed out that a man at the next table was smoking a cigar, and we were seated next to an incense vendor. Trying to savor the subtleties of wine in this environment is like attempting to appreciate a sampler of soft French cheeses while on a bad acid trip. Or, shall I say, a sampler of flavored jack cheese, Swiss, mozzarella, and cheddar, which is what you get on Amante's antipasto plate (which changes from time to time).

The wine selection is better, about 45 in all. The waitstaff doesn't possess a whit of wine knowledge. A "European wine and cheese bar" with sappy cheeses and waiters who don't know wine? 'Nuff said.

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Miami New Times' restaurant reviewer for the past decade, and the world's indisputable master of disguise.
Contact: Lee Klein

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