Alibi V.24 No.13 • March 26-April 1, 2015 

Restaurant Review

Date Night Dining

Soul and Vine is perfect for a first impression

Scarborough salad
Scarborough salad
photos by Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
I’m really bad at giving dating advice. I’m happy to sit patiently and listen to you explain the subtle differences between “dating” and “hanging out.” I’ll even feign interest in your latest match on OkCupid. But when it comes time to offer my opinion, don’t expect much. My typical advice for most romantic entanglements is some variation of “get out while you can.”

The one area of dating where I feel I can actually offer some seasoned advice is on the subject of restaurant recommendations. If you need some direction on which local eatery will best suit your dating needs, I’m your man. Is it a first date? Is it someone you’re trying to impress? What’s your price range? Give me the variables and I’ll determine a number of restaurants to fit the bill.

I’m adding Soul and Vine to my list of date-friendly spots.

The service is attentive, the ambience lends itself well to friendly chatting, the wine adds to the romance factor, and, worst case scenario, the food is worth putting up with even the worst dating website match-ups.

My dining partner and I sat at a pristine, white linen-covered table and were immediately served a basket of lavash—an Armenian unleavened cracker-like bread—with a spreadable green chile butter.

In my experiences, both lunch and dinner, I was seated promptly and waited on attentively. That could be because there were only ever one or two other tables occupied at any given time, but I’d like to think the waitstaff would be diligent even with a busier house.

My dining partner and I sat at a pristine, white linen-covered table and were immediately served a basket of lavash—an Armenian unleavened cracker-like bread—with a spreadable green chile butter. Green chile doesn’t make many appearances on the menu, but where it does, it’s a thoughtful application—a lesson in restraint that executive chef David Ruiz demonstrates well in his bill of fare.

During lunch, a Soul and Vine trio ($15) will give you a choice of a soup, salad and sandwich. Adding wine increases the price by $7 but is still a good value when compared to pricing each item individually.

For my trio, I opted for the white bean and kale soup, Scarborough Farms baby greens salad and a crab fritter po’ boy. The soup derived a good deal of its flavor from the heavy helping of shaved parmesan. The small dice of the carrots and celery made it easy to get a perfectly delicious spoonful every time. The po’ boy was tasty and not at all heavy, with enough crab in the fritter filling to satisfy my standards. The real winner for me was the salad. Cranberries, candied pecans, grilled onions and balsamic dressing all danced around in my mouth, creating tart and sweet sensations that worked beautifully for me. The super creamy goat cheese was just a bonus.

Bison slider with Wrtier’s Bock malbec
Bison slider with Wrtier’s Bock malbec
Among the appetizers—Soul and Vine calls them “shared Wine & Vine plates”—are some excellent standouts to consider. Chief among them is the mac’n cheese. White cheddar and truffle dominate the flavor profile, while the herb crumbs on top give it a perfectly light and crispy crunch in contrast to the gooey cheesiness enveloping the al dente corkscrew pasta. Another delicious choice is the mini bison Wellington, where the duxelles incorporate green chile in addition to the standard minced mushrooms, giving the dish a wonderfully warm heat underneath a layer of puff pastry.

At $13 each, the shared plate portions could be more generous.

Instead of a trio, the dinner menu offers the choice of a quartet ($35), which is again the best value for sampling a few items. The quartet gives you a choice of soup or salad, a shared plate and an entrée. The fourth member of the quartet is a pair of chocolate truffles to end the meal on a sweet note.

I was disappointed in my soup selection, the braised beef en brodo. The bone stock was simply too salty to enjoy. I also wasn’t a fan of the fish tacos I chose for my shared plate. The avocado crema was bland, and the fish was too fishy in an off-putting way. I ended up snacking on my dining partner’s calamari fritto, which were refreshingly light and tasty.

But both our entrées were fantastic. My buttermilk chicken and gravy was rich and unctuous with a welcome tang from the buttermilk. The bed of mashed potatoes hid a portion of garlicky spinach, and the whole dish was topped with crispy strips of sweet carrot, giving color and texture to the plate. I also loved the chicken tortellini my dining companion ordered. There was no shortage of cheese. For something less heavy, I’d also recommend the salmon prepared and served on a cedar plank with an irresistible celery root purée.

When it comes to wine selection, trust your server. Our servers were always at the ready with recommendations and samples. I personally recommend a glass of the Writer’s Block Malbec ($9), not only because of its smooth blueberry sweetness or because it’s perfectly palatable with most anything on the menu, but also because Soul and Vine is the only place in New Mexico where you can get this Northern California vino.

Soul and Vine

When it comes to dessert, Chef Ruiz has some real treats in store. Lately, he’s been toying around with a “’90s kids throwback” concept, which has yielded specialties like Fruit Roll-Ups and crème brûlée topped with Pop Rocks. His house-made ice cream creations are inspired by the likes of Apple Jacks, Rice Krispies, Cookie Crisp and Fruity Pebbles. Flecks of cereal can be found throughout each scoop. My personal childhood favorite, Fruity Pebbles, tastes like someone used the milk left from a bowl of the cereal as a base for a batch of quality ice cream—which is possibly very close to how this dessert is made. The Rice Krispies ice cream has the added surprise of marshmallow pieces, creating a smooth and chewy texture.

Ordering a ‘90s-inspired dessert is a good way to add levity to a date. Wine works as well. And if you’re looking for an after-dinner activity, the movie theater is a short walk around the corner, and The Box Performance Space, with a comedy improv show on Friday nights, is literally across the street. But that’s the extent of my dating advice.

Soul and Vine

109 Gold SW
244-3344
soulandvine.com
Hours: 11:30am to 9pm Monday to Thursday, 11:30am to 10:30pm Friday and Saturday, 10am to 3pm Sunday
Vibe: Casual fine dining

The Alibi recommends: White cheddar truffle mac’n cheese, Scarborough Farms baby greens, Writer’s Block Malbec