Wine Thief’s winter menu is out, and just in time for a special Sunday opening for dinner on Valentine’s Day, February 14th. In fact, owner Dave Cooper is thinking of adding a Sunday brunch or Monday dinner to the restaurant’s regular hours by popular demand.
As usual, there was the usual mix at Wine Thief when we walked in – couples, singles, a new-in-town D’Youville professor who was chatting at the bar with a neighborhood couple (who met at the Wine Thief and nurtured their romance there), and no less than two tables, quietly and happily celebrating birthdays.
If you hang around long enough, you’ll see Cooper and staff rearranging the single tables in a liquid flow to acomodate guests, from large parties to small. Cooper is the perfect host; a one-time wine salesman, he knows his wines, and he understands customer satisfaction. In the evening, inside the dark and uncluttered restaurant, the lights of the city flow into enormous windows, and the chic room wears its urban surroundings well. There’s nothing like a window seat at the Wine Thief, and every passerby looks in as if to make a mental note to stop back. It’s sleek, comfortable, and the fare is every bit as delightful.
Cooper (right) talked wine with us for a while, more about local trends than anything else. As we sipped a white, Cooper explained that, here in Buffalo, we have less seasonal tastes, preferring our heavy reds all year long, rather than changing to white wines in summer. We proved his point by making our next glass a full, red Montepulciano.
“We’re expanding our Italian list more, but we like to wait and see what people want,” Cooper says. “Some come in knowing exactly what they want, or they ask about what we have.”
As the “front of the house guy,” Cooper is never at a loss when it comes to matching tastes.
Getting back to Valentine’s Day and the menu, Chef Shawn Sweeney, has worked out some great new dishes. He has worked at fine restaurants in Florida, Colorado, and the New York City area, and locally at Buffalo Chophouse and Marinaccio’s.
We started with a favorite, Grilled Chicken Pizza for two ($14), with chicken breast, roasted red pepper, basil pesto and seasoned oil. It’s nice as an appetizer, at the bar, and as takeout. It’s that nibble you need when you’re not so hungry, but looking for flavor. Along with that, we tried the Stuffed Bell Pepper ($14), filled with orzo and mascarpone, and topped with a tomato cream sauce. It’s a good answer for people who like peppers of the “not hot” variety. Creamy and rich, it is the one meat and fish-free entree on the menu, other than the Buffalo Mozzarella Pizza.
After a preamble from the young, talented Chef Sweeney (left) – about how he doesn’t worry so much about how a dish looks – we were presented with the Rack of Lamb ($20), that photographed like a beautiful abstract painting. The pan seared, peppercorn-crusted 4-point rack rests on a bed of creme de menthe “spiked” orzo, with a Four Vines Zinfandel syrup. Remembering the dish makes us want to follow that last sentence with too many exclamation points, but just try to imagine for a moment the combination of the crusty chop, against the sweet wine syrup, with a mint flavor enveloping the whole thing. It was outrageous.
When Cooper walked by again, we flagged him down to talk about it. “Isn’t it great?” he agreed. “Mint jelly was old in the 70s, and we like to use our wines in as many dishes as we can.”
Next we had Bolognese ($18), that was the hands-down best bolognese we’ve had anywhere. With orchietti pasta, spinach, braised tenderloin tips and pork, the red sauce had the tang we love and the tenderloin and pork were all the better and more tender for having cooked in it. A restaurant with one pasta dish on the menu is under the pressure to get it right – very right – and they do.
We experienced dessert that night as a strictly aural treat, listening to the list, because after all the food we’d just enjoyed, we were too stuffed to order more.
Know that all of the desserts at Wine Thief are brought north up Elmwood daily from Sweet Tooth, with the exception of what we would have had, if we could have had – the Bananas Foster that is made by Sweeny. We were simply too full to try.
The Valentine’s dinner will be served from 4 to 10PM on the 14th. Call for reservations now – the seatings are bound to fill up fast. Diners can ordered from the regular menu, or choose the $50 prix fixe selection as follows:
1st Course: Artisan Cheese Board
2nd Course: Choice of Soup or Salad from Winter menu
3rd Course: Wine Thief’s version of surf and turf, including a 12oz Grilled Skirt Steak, glazed with 2003 Taylor Fladgate “Late Bottled Vintage” Port reduction, and Seared Sea Scallops laced with Strawberry-Ginger Syrup. This entree includes Toasted 3 Onion Bistro Potatoes, and Grilled Asparagus.
Dessert course: Passion Fruit Creme Brulee
Photo credit: Sherry Burns