Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Ups and downs at La Vineria

On a quiet Tuesday evening, the bro and I decided to grab dinner at La Vineria, a new Italian place in the neighborhood. I arrived first about an hour early for our reservation, but the hostess sat me graciously-- it probably helped that the dining room was only about 1/3 full. While I waited for the bro to arrive, I looked around the room, which was dark and fairly nondescript. That is, except for a series of rather bizarre tribal-style artworks on the walls. Of course.

While I was waiting, one exceptionally aggressive waiter asked if I'd like anything to drink, and when I declined seemed visibly angry. I sat and sipped my water until D arrived. After he looked over the menu, a different waiter sidled up to our table and asked if we were ready to order. I had to prompt him to recite the specials, which he then did (I had overheard the recitation for another table, and there was something that sounded appealing). After we both placed our order, this waiter, too, tried to upsell us another appetizer or plate to share. We declined.

Finally, to distract us from our failings as restauarant patrons, the bread basket arrived. It was ample, and that made us happy. Unfortunately, the bread itself was nothing special-- carby and satisfying, but not warm or fresh or anything superlative. The only notable aspect of the bread basket was the dipping oil, which held a nice mixture of lentils that I scarfed down, thereby giving me a pretty substantial post-dinner stomachache. Nonetheless, I ate a plank of salted dense focaccia and a small roll, and both served their purposes.

I guess.

Very shortly after the bread basket, our entrees arrived. The bro had ordered one of the specials, papardelle with porcini mushrooms and walnuts in a light cream sauce. It was yummy and hearty but significantly more expensive than the other pastas (deceptive restaurant practice alert!).

Fresh pasta under parmesan downpour

I had chosen the marmitta, described as "variety of seasonal steamed vegetable plate fresh herbs and lemon dressing." It was, as promised, a nice little bowl of mixed steamed veggies. I tried it with a bit of the dressing, which I had requested on the side, and it didn't add much. The veggies were well steamed and tasty, but as could be expected, the dish didn't exactly knock me off my feet.

Steamed vegetables. And unsteamed tomato halves.

After we were done with our entrees, the first aggressive waiter came back with dessert menus. When we declined (I had a hefty bag of Billy's baked goods waiting for us), he asked us if we wanted any coffee or after-dinner drinks. We said no. Then he actually said-- I'm not kidding-- "Are you sure?" Yes, actually, we're sure, thanks. Listen, La Vineria: I understand that this is a very tough time for restaurants, and with no drinks and no dessert, we didn't exactly break the bank with our particular meal. But upselling to the point of making us both angry and uncomfortable isn't going to boost your bottom line: it's just going to make sure we never return. Just. Stop.

So it was a dinner of ups and downs. Ups: prompt service; innocuous dining room; relatively tasty food; ample bread basket; reasonable prices. Downs: Post-dinner stomachache; upselling, upselling, upselling. On balance, La Vineria is a three-Offset Spatula restaurant. There are better Italian picks in the neighborhood and definitely much better Italian restaurants elsewhere on the island. But if you're really hungry, you're in the neighborhood, and you want to gorge on not-so-fresh carbs, La Vineria is the place for you.

La Vineria
400 W. 50th Street, on Ninth Avene


Laura said...

Not gonna lie, that pasta looks incredibly unappealing.

Janine said...


That's funny-- I've actually found that pastas are frequently the most unphotogenic foods, even if they are taste delicious. This one tasted pretty good, but I agree, it sort of looks like... well...

Thanks for reading!