A little dining and lots of wining at downtown wine bar
By Tom Baker
First, a confession – the Wine Gallery and I used to be a package. That’s right, since their opening in November 2006 at Third and Wayne, well before their foray into the 2nd Street Market in 2009 and before their January 2010 relocation and addition of a kitchen at Main and Monument, we were in a serious relationship. I tasted through almost every wine flight, each featuring tasting pours of three wines and referencing art and music – Monet, Picasso, Abstract Expressionism and Dorian Mode to name a few. It would not last, however, primarily due to the consistently spotty service, and we parted ways. It was a painful split, as I missed the wide variety of wines, the retail store, and the then-and-now fantastic five-dollar corkage when choosing an off-menu bottle that you’d like to open and enjoy.
Now let’s catch up. On a busy Friday night we were seated promptly at one of the last tables. Looking around, the ambiance was urban industrial with a collection of couches just inside the entrance, with odd bits of French bistro that didn’t mesh. Holding a conversation was challenging due to the layout and little to soften the sound. This was distracting as I prefer to talk about the wines with my companion and yelling to the couch across from you can be awkward.
We ordered pours of wines at each course to share and the option of a three-ounce, six-ounce or bottle allows for sampling without draining your wallet. We started with a very tasty and slightly spicy Baked Brie with mango chili chutney, along with the sweet and savory Pear and Walnut Salad. The brie was wrapped in what appeared to be wonton wrapper, which added a pleasant texture and the portion was more than adequate. The salad of mixed greens, poached pears, candied walnuts, feta and balsamic vinaigrette was nice, but bordered on too sweet.
We continued with the Eggplant Caprese, a panko and parmesan breaded disc of eggplant garnished with tomato, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil and a red wine syrup. The presentation was attractive, but the dish was overwhelmed by the sweetness of the syrup and was further hampered by the undercooked eggplant and relatively flavorless, seasonally challenged tomatoes.
We ended the meal with a different sort of pairing – the Pot Roast Sandwich and Vermont’s Otter Creek Black IPA. The Wine Gallery offers some very interesting brews, ports, sherry, sparkling wines and specialty cocktails – consider your bases covered if you’re planning an outing with a group. The stick to your ribs sandwich featured roast with carrot, onion and mushroom atop mashed potatoes and nestled in a kaiser bun, but evoked a broader observation – I know this is the Midwest, but does this belong in the downtown wine bar? Featuring dips, cheeses and olives, pizzas, sandwiches, salads, soups, entrees, and dessert, it’s too much to negotiate when you have a plethora of libations to decide on as well.
Service was and continues to be something requiring polish, but has improved since my first visits. Most restaurants in Dayton have staff that could use some additional training and sometimes a complete personality adjustment. But most restaurants in Dayton aren’t a wine bar, and I hope to be surrounded by staff with a passion as well as adequate training when it comes to the main fare they’re peddling. If I order a five-dollar taste, my server should, A) Know how to pronounce it, and B) Deliver it by name versus by the flight of which it’s part – I didn’t order a Monet, I ordered a Sauvignon Blanc. Our server was friendly and eager to please, but lacked confidence regarding the wines. Another server delivering a course of our wines bordered on unfriendly. Leaving our table after we thanked her, she seemed to sigh, “Meh” as she walked away.
Maybe I didn’t give it the chance it deserved the first time – to say the prices are right would be an understatement as most dishes are under $10. The selection of wine and options to sample it abound. That being said, service continues to be the Achilles heel of an otherwise worthwhile downtown destination. The Wine Gallery and I are friends again, but it will take some time for us to reignite that spark.
The Wine Gallery is located downtown at the corner of Main and Monument. (937) 224-9463.
Reach DCP food critic Tom Baker at TomBaker@daytoncitypaper.com.