Rich Tastes on Small Plates

A Review of Vinted Wine Bar and Kitchen, in West Hartford

I’m going to be harshly critical of Vinted: in my expert opinion, no restaurant should have a past participle for a name. Everything else about the place is pretty much superb. Vinted’s stainless-steel WineStation cabinets house an argon-oxygen replacement system that keeps an opened bottle of wine fresh up to two months, making it possible to serve an impressive 68 wines by the glass. Yet more impressive still is what’s on the plate — artful variations on the lavish fare chef and co-owner Michael Presnal has been dishing out at The Federal, just up the road in Agawam, Mass., for a decade. These may be small plates, but the tastes are huge. My introduction to Vinted came via a glass of Tempranillo and a portion of duck prosciutto and manchego cheese served, pretty as a still life, on a board with grapes and a chunk of honeycomb. Gary Evangelista, the sommelier and general manager, astutely led me through the wines, recommending a Trimbach Pinot Gris with a Caesar salad that featured two mini crab cakes, skewered together with an anchovy, along with halved caperberries, lemon confit and a rich caper aioli. I enjoyed a Napa Pinot Noir with a combination of seared sea scallops perched atop a “sloppy Joe” of short-rib beef, and a bold Super Tuscan to complement a plate of veal cheeks saltimbocca. Festooned with prosciutto and crisp-fried sage leaves, bathed in brown butter and aged balsamic vinegar, the saltimbocca is true to its Italian name, a flavor that jumps in your mouth. Mr. Presnal brings unexpected touches to almost every preparation. Fried brussels sprouts bore a sifting of vinegar powder. Tuna tartare sported glistening black jellified soy pearls, with wasabi wittily incorporated into the accompanying crackers. A big bowl of mussels was enlivened by a broth combining ginger, sake and miso. A sriracha-infused vinaigrette added punch to the moist and ideally flaky pan-seared wild salmon. The upscaling of comfort food is a cliché by now, but Mr. Presnal rescues it by the sheer force and flair of his creations. His menu is littered with coy quotation marks — a duck “hot dog,” for instance, turns out to be a foie gras torchon in a bun with truffled caramelized onions and a creamy herbed aioli. Vinted’s poutine takes the greasy-spoon Québécois standard, substitutes truffled sottocenere cheese for the sloppy curd cheese of the original, and glams it up with crisp pork belly slices. Fans rave over a signature munch imported from The Federal, cheesy risotto rolled into balls, then deep fried and coated in truffle butter. Chicken meatballs, already packed with ground-up pancetta and pecorino Romano, absorb additional richness from a confit lardo butter. If you expect wine-bar food to be dainty, you are in for a surprise. “I like rich food,” Mr. Presnal confesses, and his training in classical French cuisine draws on a cornucopia of regal culinary luxuries — veal and beef, truffles, foie gras, wine, butter, confit — that evoke Versailles. Vinted courts the carnivore. Nearly as tender as the veal cheeks, and just as tasty, was a spectacular braised short rib, coated with grated horseradish and served with fingerling potatoes in a semisweet tamari caramel sauce. The beef “cacciatore” or “hunter” lets you scoop broiled marrow out of a giant halved bone to mix with braised oxtails, wild mushrooms and gnocchi. It is fortunate, given Mr. Presnal’s proclivity for stewy, meaty concoctions, that he has both an exceptionally light touch and an instinct for applying arcane ingredients — like the homemade pine needle oil with the marrow cacciatore, or a citrusy Asian XO sauce with confit chicken wings — that introduce a fat-cutting edge. The only dishes I would change are a few that suffered from an excess of components. Foie gras deserves a star’s treatment, but the “hot dog” and the “McMuffin” presentations obscured it amid egg, cheese, or caramelized onions, letting these minor players steal the show. This problem afflicted the desserts as well; for instance, the tidy artistry of miniature apple purses was hidden beneath vanilla ice cream and an inundation of walnuts. Vinted is a flexible concept. You can go with a friend for a glass of wine and share a dish or two. You can order two dozen tasting glasses all at once, as one patron recently did — 12 each for himself and his companion. Or you can just sit back, loosen your belt, and play at being Louis XIV. “I don’t have any problem getting a full meal here,” a friend of mine said. “I just keep ordering more.” That’s going to be my game plan, too. Article by RAND RICHARDS COOPER

Vinted Wine Bar and Kitchen

63 Memorial Road West Hartford (860) 206-4648