Wine Stein’z is schizophrenic by design.
The Valley’s newest upscale restaurant is both a bright, lively pub with a great selection of beers on tap and a fine dining venue complete with linen tablecloths and an ambitious menu.
After this much-anticipated “American bistro” opened last spring, numerous reports drifted in about puny portions, tentative seasoning, sausage sandwiches that were missing meat and harried service.
So, I arrived at Wine Stein’z expecting the worst. Happily, my experiences were far from calamitous.
Owners Terry and Paul Lindgren acknowledged that they got off to a rocky start. The original chef lasted less than a week.
In the meantime, adjustments were made to the menu and after dividing the kitchen responsibilities among a team of chefs, Terry said things were running much more smoothly.
The Lindgrens have done a laudable job of transforming the old Gloria Jean’s espresso into an inviting setting. The spacious pub area greets customers, spreading out with booths and tables on the main floor, most in view of a television. A sprawling wooden bar - with 28 taps - punctuates the back of the room. Upstairs, in an open loft area, there are more tables and TVs.
Beyond the pub is the Alphabet Room, named for a series of letter prints that line the wall just below the ceiling. The fine-dining area also features an elaborate cruvinet behind an attractive bar. That system is used to preserve the restaurant’s ample selection of wines by the glass.
While it bills itself as a bistro, the menu at Wine Stein’z has more than a French accent. Yes, there’s onion soup and beef bourguignon, but there’s also a pizza, Asian pasta salad, Santa Fe prawns, Louisiana crabcakes, a Mediterranean salad, Southwestern swordfish and New Zealand lamb chops. And that doesn’t even include the lengthy list of tapas (the Spanish name for appetizers) that are available throughout the day and for late-night munching.
Last week, with the Mariners in the thick of divisional playoffs, our foursome opted to eat in the pub, with the TV within viewing distance.
While being hypnotized by the Big Unit, we munched on sauteed mushrooms and steamed clam appetizers.
The mushrooms - a flavorful combination of shitake and button ‘shrooms - were outstanding. I usually find sauteed mushrooms boring. But the lemony wine sauce these were swimming in was so good we had to order extra bread to sop it up.
The clams were fine - small, tender and properly cooked. The simmering broth they were in was seasoned too subtly and probably suffered in comparison with the sauce on the mushrooms.
We attempted to order the crabcakes but they were out of them. In fact, they were out of at least a half-dozen menu items, including the nightly fish special, which was odd considering it was early on a Friday evening.
Salad or soup comes with each entree. We all agreed the soup would probably be the intelligent choice next time. The salad was plain iceberg lettuce and the house dressing - a raspberry vinaigrette - matched the blandness of the greens. The dressing could have used a touch more sweetness and a more substantial dose of vinegar. Its hot-pink hue was also unappetizing.
Around the table, the entrees received mixed reviews.
I was impressed with the fiery, citrus-spiked Santa Fe prawns ($14.95), but the sauce on the red chile pasta that they were served with had a bitter, faintly metallic taste. I couldn’t get past the first bite.
However, my companion’s New York pepper steak ($16.95) was first-rate. A generous cut was blanketed with cracked peppercorns. This dish - finished in a rich cognac sauce - had heat. The tasty beef was cooked medium rare, as ordered. (Hurrah.) On the side, the roasted red potatoes were fine, but the steamed veggies were soggy and flavorless.
Another guest initially liked his boneless, butterflied Idaho trout ($11.95), but got tired of the citrus glaze. Orange sauce works wonders on gamey roasted duck, but the slightly sweet mixture simply overwhelmed the delicate flavor of the trout.
Finally, the diner who was intent on trying the en papillote preparation of the fish of the day was disappointed. First, the fish of the day - halibut - was already sold out. Salmon was substituted, and a mixture of vegetables and pasta was steamed in parchment paper with the fish. This impromptu version was lacking in flavor. The addition of a finishing sauce or a more generous hand in the use of herbs and spices could have remedied that.
Save room for dessert, as Wine Stein’z has a great selection from several local sweets purveyors, including the superb stuff from Take the Cake. We shared a chocolate mousse cake and a macadamia nut tart, marveling at how such decadent desserts could be so balanced - not too sweet or too rich.
Given a full house cheering for the M’s, I’m glad we opted for seating in the pub. When I poked my head into the dining room, the considerable noise spilling in from the pub seemed a real distraction.
On another visit, however, I enjoyed lunch in the Alphabet room.
I was pleasantly surprised to find my Asian noodle chicken salad ($7.95) well-seasoned with a spicy dressing that had hints of ginger and sesame oil. Too often, restaurants underdress pasta salads.
My companion was impressed with his margherita pizza, a plain cheese affair elevated by its light herb crust. It was served with a green salad that was superior to the version served with dinner. At under $5, that meal was a bargain.
At lunch, there’s an interesting selection of such sandwiches as a New Orleans-style muffaletta and a hot pastrami on rye, plus soups and a section of entrees that includes a lemon-mushroom chicken saute.
The restaurant has also recently opened its drive-through window, offering menu items to-go weekdays from 6:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m.
It’s good to see an ambitious effort like Wine Stein’z join the slim lineup of restaurants in the Valley. I plan to return and sample more of the bar munchies and brews.
I’m still on the fence about whether I would spend a special, quiet night out in the dining room - except if the Mariners are playing. Then, I wouldn’t.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Wine Stein’z Address: 11003 E. Sprague, 891-8466 Meals: Eclectic ethnic preparations of chicken, pasta and seafood as well as steak, pork and lamb dishes; omelettes are served Sunday mornings. Prices: lunches, $4.95-$7.95; dinners, $9.95-$17.95 Days, hours: Mondays-Saturdays, 11 a.m.-midnight; Sundays 9:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Alcohol: full bar, beer and wine Smoking: only in pub section Reservations: yes Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V Personal checks: yes