Vincenzo's Fine Cuisine
Goodbye pizzeria, hello continental dining
By Jennifer Wohletz
Dining out can be much like running into your high school sweetheart—you might be pleasantly surprised at how much they've matured over time; maybe enough to make you take a sweeping second glance at the classy, well-attired adult they have become.
In this case, our old flame is Al Vincenzo. The pizzas, calzones and spaghetti of his homey Italian Kitchen have been magically transformed into the Costa Rica ceviche, balsamic spinach salad and red plum-glazed lamb chops of Vincenzo's Fine Cuisine.
I had dinner at Vincenzo's at 7:30 p.m. on a weeknight, and I was ushered into an upscale dining room with soft music floating over elegant white tablecloths and shining silver place settings.
The décor was understated but oozed class and taste. The walls were painted in shades of warm tan and cream, and the artwork was strategically placed to appear featured but not overwhelming. I was particularly impressed with the stylish track lighting that provided just enough light to eat by, without the scary police floodlight-effect that many restaurants are so fond of using.
The menu was well-organized into appetizers, salads, poultry and seafood, vegetarian and the chef's specialties.
I chose to sample the frog's legs with garlic-thyme jus to start, and was pleased as punch to realize that froggy femurs don't have to be french-fried to be delicious. Those plump little hoppers were sautéed in a savory herb-laden sauce and served piping hot over a bed of cold greens. And at $10 a plate, the price was just reasonable enough to predict that I'd be bouncing back someday for more.
My ultra-polite server David, clad in classic black, was quite knowledgeable and provided me with smooth service throughout my meal. During the pause between my appetizer and entrée I took the opportunity to check out the kitchen staff—and I must say they were definitely easy on the eyes. Head Chef Damone Flores, Sous Chef Daniel and Chef-Intern Dominick make up a trio of haute cuisine hotties that make the Abercrombie boys look like last year's cargo pants.
My entrée of hazelnut veal arrived with impeccable timing, and the actual plate presentation was a studied attempt at continental bistro fare. The veal medallions were moist, tender and encrusted with crushed hazelnuts; the garlic mashed potatoes were a bit salty but whipped and creamy, with a few flecks of red skin intact. A side of asparagus was expertly blanched and coated with seasoning, and the plate was garnished with a huge sprig of fresh thyme. At $22, I did long for a larger portion, but I made myself recall the quantity versus quality argument that I often resort to when comparing fine dining to family style.
After some post-prandial reconnaissance work, I discovered that Vincenzo's soon-to-be-famous carrot cake is actually baked by chef Damone's wife, in their kitchen at home, and brought to the restaurant—ostensibly to guard the super secret recipe from dessert hacks. I was caught between admiration for their clever tactics and disappointment at learning that Chef Dreamy—sorry, Damone—is married. But even though he is off the menu, I can still look.
Was I impressed overall with my Vincenzo's experience? You betcha. Or, as they say in the finer restaurants, yes daah-ling, it was faah-bulous.
The Alibi Recommends:
Frog's legs with garlic thyme au jus (dinner only)
Any and all of the steaks—Chef Damone says steak is what he does best
Nob Hill Growers Market at Morningside Park
Torino's Beer Dinner at Torinos' @ Home
Lavender Weekend Dinner at Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm
Chef Jonathan Perno has created a three-course lavender tasting menu. Reservations required.More Recommended Events ››