Ray’s Wine Spirits Grill in Clayton

By Paula Johnson

Photo: Pasta Bolognese at Ray’s Wine Spirits Grill in Clayton; photos: Paula Johnson

I feel just awful about what I am about to do—I really couldn’t feel worse. Those who read my column regularly will be familiar with my rant about restaurants that serve institutional-style food that comes pre-made, out-of-the-bag, ready for the microwave or fryer. How I rave about choosing restaurants that source locally, use organics, and make as much as possible in-house and fresh. So, what is the problem? I am in the position of not being able to recommend such a restaurant, no matter how much I admire a lot of what they are doing. (This place doesn’t even have a microwave or a fryer.) But at the end of the day, folks, it’s about how good the food tastes. Or doesn’t. And to be absolutely certain of my assessment, I went back after my initial experience, but sadly found a repeat performance.

The restaurant in question is Ray’s Wine Spirits Grill on North Main Street in Dayton. Ray’s is also a retail operation stocking a large selection of wine (from $8.99 to $899) and related merchandise. Ray’s features a large beer cave including both local and domestic choices from Asia, Africa, Europe, and India; a gluten-free selection; and mix and match singles (a great option to try a little of everything without having to buy the entire pack). There’s even a cigar-stocked humidor, the slight scent of which PIP (Palate In Progress) and I both detected as we sat ourselves at one of the tables on the restaurant side. PIP has been doing a rigorous weight loss regimen, only allowing one cheat meal per week, so he was anticipating something tasty, as was I.

All The Right Moves

Ray’s claims on its website really appealed to me. “All of our vegetables, fruits, and greens are certified organic. We use organic ingredients wherever, whenever possible. All of our animal proteins are classified organic, certified wild caught or free range. No growth hormones, antibiotics or artificial preservatives, ever. Everything is made fresh to order. Your food is not reheated or ‘warmed up.’ We leave the fried foods to others. No hydrogenated oils, ever. We have no aluminum cookware and feel that it is not a safe, healthy medium for cooking.” Interesting stuff, right?

Ray’s menu had some interesting dishes, as well. It’s not a large menu, concentrating on appetizers, salads, sandwiches, pizzas, and some small plate entree choices. Sadly, they were out of several items, only a few of which our server mentioned. There’s nothing more frustrating than being told “oh, sorry we’re out of that, too” when you’ve decided on that particular thing. (When I returned a few days later for lunch, I found that most of what was missing on my dinner outing was still AWOL.)

What about the dishes we did try? Soup to start, a soup of the day with chorizo and potato, which was thick, pasty, and salty. Appetizers next, Prince Edward Island Mussels ($8.95) and Chorizo and Chutney ($8.95). The six mussels braised in a wine garlic sauce could have been fine, but unfortunately were oddly paired with a swirled caraway rye bread topped with mozzarella cheese. This German/Italian mash up just did not work. Why not use a grilled garlic ciabatta? The crumbled chorizo sausage and olive chutney was served on too thick slices of too soft bread, resulting in an out of balance ratio of bread to topping. Next to it was a sizable serving of undressed field greens, which, without any dressing made no sense.

Turkey Not So Special

PIP tried the Turkey and Stuffing special ($12.95), really looking forward to the carb fest he’d waited for all week. Gooey, gummy, salty, and bland were his descriptors. He didn’t even finish his one allotted cheat meal (he’s on a diet). I fared no better with the Pasta Bolognese ($11.95), typically a dish with a rich, meaty sauce with just a little tomato added, served over tagliatelle or fettucine noodles. This was the dish I anticipated, but Ray’s interpretation was a casserole with shell pasta in a thin, tomato-y sauce with broiled Italian cheese on top, a far cry from the traditional preparation. (Ray’s does get credit for discounting the dish since it was not as expected.) Other dishes tried on my next attempt: Ray’s Sliders and French Dip Sandwich, both a huge disappointment. Odd tasting meat on the sliders, and a bun that inexplicably became powdery in my mouth reinforced my impression.

PIP, commenting on the general lack of flavor, said, “If your eyes were closed, you would have a tough time identifying what you were eating.” Nearly everything we tried reminded me of the 30-minute cheat version of a recipe that comes close, but lacks any resemblance to the depth of flavor and character of the original dish.

Finally, I have never left a dessert. Mousse used to be one of my all-time favorite desserts. The word itself suggests a silky, creamy softness almost by its sound. I honestly don’t know what Ray’s Salted Caramel Mousse was made of, or how, but it was hard and unpleasant.

A restaurant review should do two things: provide edification and advice for the diner and the same (if warranted) for an establishment. So, while I can’t advise dining at Ray’s Wine Spirits Grill as it is, it’s possible that if they up their game, I will change my mind. I hope that happens. Your move, Ray’s.

Ray’s Wine Spirits Grill is located at 8268 N. Main St. in Clayton. For more information please call 937.890.0300 or visit RaysWineSpiritsGrill.com

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Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at PaulaJohnson@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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