Saturday, April 3, 2010

Roomie Night at Vignola

Ed. note: Vignola has closed.

If you haven't gathered this before, I'm pretty broke (AmeriCorps volunteer, you see). So when I decided I can afford to go out to eat, I take that shit seriously. I deliberate for a LONG time. I don't want to feel like my scant dollars (I won't say hard-earned, ha) are wasted on overpriced, bad, or even mediocre food. And in this culinary obsessed town, you'd think that wouldn't be such a tall order.

So when I decided to have a women's night out (what's with "girls night"? I'm not 12!) with my fabulous roommates at Vignola, I thought I was safe. I'd heard good things about their appetizers, but that their service frequently left something to be desired (namely, faster service). But I'm pretty low maintenance- as long as I have a drink, I don't mind whatever else they throw at me. So I chose Vignola in the hopes of sharing some of their great Italian appetizers with my roommates.

But I was not all that impressed with Vignola. At first, I was hopeful, as I was expecting a more rustic, old-world Italian feel to the restaurant. I was pleased to see that Vignola attempts to strike a more modern chord with intriguing wine bottle light fixtures over the bar and a combo of exposed brick, beams and ventilation.

Our waitress was friendly and engaging and assured us that if we ordered everything all at once, she would ensure that our food's arrival would be well-timed. So we started with a bottle of wine and a cheese course. I was dismayed (again with the brokeness) to see that most of their bottles start in the mid $30s. I mean, throw a broke girl a bone. Most places do! But whatever, since we were splitting it, it's just a small quibble.

Our cheese course came pretty quickly, as did some fresh herbed focaccia bread and individual plates of olive oil for dipping. However, after we quickly devoured our cheese, we waited... and waited... for our next course. To the point where even I noticed that the food hadn't come (like I said, as long as my glass is full...). C. had to flag down another server and beg her for some more bread. We were dismayed to encounter large gaps in the timing of our meal after our server had assured us that we were in the hands of a master.

Finally, A. and I split the beef carpaccio and Kobe beef tartar, being the meat eaters that we are, while C. snacked on her pile of greens. Our tartar and carpaccio were both good, especially with the accompaniments of mustard, pickles, and crispy toasts. C. was befuddled by her torn up bits of Boston lettuce with a sprinkling of cheese- as Adam of Appetite Portland said, "That was a nice heap of greens — I just wouldn’t call it a salad."

OK, as for this next course, I'm just gonna say it: It was a hot mess. A. can defend it in the comments if she so chooses, but I thought it was all over the place. Three grilled shrimp came over tarragon marinated artichokes and fingerling potatoes, with mini greens, roasted red peppers, and some sort of aoili. I was surprised to find the accompaniments were cold, as I was expecting them to be warm. The shrimp were cooked well, but the dish had no consistent flavor profile, just a bunch of incongruous ingredients.

C. asked for a vegetarian pasta dish, as, other than pizza, there's no vegetarian entree. The kitchen offered to tweak a pancetta, Brussels sprouts, and linguine in cream sauce dish for her. However, she wasn't too impressed with the final product. I don't have much of an opinion on how far a kitchen should go to accommodate special diets, but it seems to me that an Italian joint could do a little more to provide vegetarian options.

After dessert, almost everything was forgiven though. We had a chocolate mousse topped with whipped cream and caramelized bananas. The mousse was rich but light, and the sugary crust on the bananas gave them a nice crunch.

Since I liked the atmosphere at Vignola so much, I think I'll relegate it to the category of 'drinks and apps at the bar' from now on. I think that's a role that it will fill well, just as long as I don't need to eat and leave in a hurry.


  1. Sadly, that place never managed to turn itself into what it might have been. Too bad. I could easily have become a regular, as good Italian here is not in abundance, but I rarely go.

  2. Nice rundown... we had a special night out a few months ago @ Vignola's and wouldn't go back... We really enjoyed the atmosphere but the food was not prepared to the standards that the prices reflect. I mean I ordered a trout dish that had a side of potatoes and most of the potatoes were undercooked to the point that I thought they may be raw. The service was good but it took 3-4 tries from the beer menu to choose one that they actually had on hand. Overall not the best experience. Good to see we are not alone... we may wander back in for a pizza some day but otherwise we will steer clear !

  3. I, roomie A., am here to support (though not zealously) the shrimp/tarragon/artichoke "hot mess." First, a misnomer, because it mostly wasn't hot. The shrimp were perfectly handled, and hot off the grill, but all the stuff under it was cold. I was expecting that. Kate wasn't. I liked the contrast, she didn't, but I just don't think that an artichoke/tarragon/fingerling melange should be hot. Second, she thought it was all over the place, and I thought it was busy, but fun and interesting. It didn't quite work, but I wasn't sad in the slightest to eat it. I'd categorize it as odd and unexpected, but tasty.

  4. Yup. Why can't they make a decent salad? Nice write-up, Kate!

  5. Your comments are spot-on. I so want to love this place because of the atmosphere. Sadly, the food always comes up short. It's a good drinks-and-apps place, and nothing more. Too bad, because it really has the potential to be something much more.

  6. oh no! i was really hoping for more, because this is one of the few restaurants in town that i haven't tried yet (and had reasonable hopes for). how can an italian restaurant not have at lease one veg entree!? this actually breaks my heart at almost every restaurant in portland. usually they have at least one, but it doesn't change (i'm talking to you front room), or seems like a hastily concocted afterthought. lame!