Downtown Dayton’s Wine Gallery and Cafe

By Paula Johnson

Photo: Pistachio Crusted Goat Cheese appetizer at The Wine Gallery and Cafe in downtown Dayton; photos: Paula Johnson; Photos: Paula Johnson
Toward the edge of downtown on Monument Avenue, you’ll find a nice little wine bar to try a wine flight, and while you’re there, a few good things to eat along with your flight. They had me at “Wine Bar,” but I am always interested in the food, which is what PIP (Palate In Progress) and I went to investigate. It happened to be a Wednesday evening, special tasting night at The Wine Gallery. Five specially chosen wines are featured each week, according to our server. Tempted as I was, my current obsession is Spanish reds, and The Wine Gallery offers The Dorian Flight ($14.25), perfect for those who share my fixation. Three wines were on this flight: A 2015 Terraplen Garnacha from Navarra, a 2012 Torre De Ona Rioja Reserva from Rioja, and a 2008 Bodegas El Nido ‘Clio’ red blend from Jumilla. Things were going very well so far, but first a little background about the place.

The Wine Gallery features a lot of options for the wine lover at a variety of budget levels, both to take home and to sample there. There’s the Everyday Wines, a go-to wine selection suitable for every day, the Wine Specials, well priced, higher-quality wines with by-the-case value pricing, and a Collectible Wines list. I kicked myself when I thought of all the times I have been downtown and didn’t realize I could pop in and pick up a bottle to take home. I know now, and have a feeling I will be stopping on a regular basis. But tonight, we were there to eat, so I was more interested in familiarizing myself with what is offered food-wise. I was surprised to learn that it’s more than just appetizers. Pizzas, sandwiches, salads, and a small selection of entrées are also available.

Small Plate Debate

We settled on a few things to try. Nothing says pretending you are in Barcelona like an olive medley ($5) and Spanish almonds ($4), so that’s where we began. We found the almonds, listed as raw and roasted, golden brown with spices and sea salt, to be overly roasted and bitter without much spice or salt. The olives were described as a blend of “Kali Mata, Manzillia, Queen Anne’s olives, mushrooms, and peppers marinated in oil and spices” but included no mushrooms or peppers and yielded little discernible spice.

The next pair of starters, Pistachio Encrusted Goat Cheese ($9), served warm with toasted baguettes, and Crab Dip ($9) arrived. I wasn’t really wowed by either of these, finding them average in taste and presentation, and served with way more than enough bread. The crab dip gets higher marks than the goat cheese. It was cheesy and hot, though overwhelmed with too much dried dill sprinkled on the toast. I would probably recommend the dip as something to share table-wide rather for just two. At this point, I was a little disappointed that nothing was standing out as something I would want to order again—not what I expected from a wine bar. I anticipated some creative and tasty small plate bites to munch on while sipping, and thus far, I was underwhelmed. As this seemed more like a place for these kinds of dishes and not entrées, I wasn’t holding my breath for our main courses. However, I ended up surprised.

Local Love

After noting two things on the menu, that the pasta was locally made and that the greens were locally sourced, PIP and I decided on the Bleu Linguini Alfredo with grilled Italian sausage added on for me ($10, plus $5 for the sausage), and Scottish Smoked Salmon Salad (Half-size salad $8, Full-size salad $12) for him. The pasta was a real surprise, fresh tasting and perfect in texture, with a mildly blue cheese-infused creamy Alfredo and fresh basil adding a nice additional flavor note. The sausage, very mild and fine in texture, foiled the slightly assertive blue cheese taste, not something I would have added on if this was a straight ahead Alfredo. (Other add-on options include chicken and salmon.) Presentation-wise, I would have liked the basil to be cut chiffonade style in thin ribbons and strewn on top, as opposed to larger torn pieces, which were used to decorate the plate and could be mistaken for garnish. Perhaps the sausage could be sliced somehow so as to not look so much like an afterthought, plunked down atop the pasta. All in all, I really liked this pasta and would order it again or one of the others offered next time. PIP was quite pleased with the greens in his entrée salad, remarking on how tender and fresh they were. The Caesar dressing and smoked salmon were tasty as well, so another win for the Wine Gallery. Surprisingly, there was dessert to be had on the menu as well, so of course I did. The poached pear in spiced zinfandel syrup ($5) proved the perfect nice light ending after all the cheese, bread, and pasta.

Waiting For It

A note about service: Our server was brand new, both to The Wine Gallery (it was her fourth day), and to serving I am fairly certain. There were things she didn’t know that she should have been aware of. To name a few: whether or not they have tea or artificial sweetener, and what things are made in-house. She was a sweet and charming person, clearly wanting to do a good job. I peppered her with questions about the food, none of which she could answer, and she dutifully returned several times to the kitchen to find out for me. (I asked no questions about the wines as the menu lists helpful and lengthy descriptions, so while I have no way of knowing if she was more up to speed on them, it’s doubtful.) She did mention that there was a discount on all seafood items for the Lenten season, but did not remember to deduct it from our check. So here’s a case of someone who has the personality and desire to be good at her job, but, I sense, hasn’t been given the tools and training to be successful. PIP was concerned for her, saying, “Don’t write bad things about her. The poor kid is brand new!” And he’s right, I won’t, because the responsibility is not all with her. (She, in fact, thanked us for helping her learn so much about her job from our questions.)

In any case, The Wine Gallery is not alone in needing to better prepare serving staff. It’s an all-too-common problem most everywhere. I would urge them to work a little harder to get service up to par. Service with a smile, which is certainly what we experienced, wasn’t quite enough.

Overall, there was a lot I liked about The Wine Gallery and Cafe, just not the things I expected. They had me at wine bar, and the retail operation, to start, and I found enough positives on the culinary side to make me look forward to returning.

The Wine Gallery and Cafe is located at 5 W. Monument Ave. in downtown Dayton. For more information, please call 937.224.9463 or visit TheWineGalleryAndCafe.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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