It seems that chefs are moving across the river and new restaurants are sprouting up like flies, even in the little strip malls along Lee Highway. RESTAURANT VERO (5723 Lee Hwy-www.restaurantvero.com) is the child of owners Joy Reinhardt and partner Veronica Kunkel with Joy's twin brother, Jay, in charge of the kitchen. There is clearly love here and despite the cold outside, the warmth pervaded in the dark putty-colored walls, comfy chairs and crisp linens. It seems that all the servers are super nice and positive as well; Annie was a gem and suggested everything that was perfect.
We started with a bottle of SIERRA GRANDE Sauvignon Blanc 2006 from Chile's Central Valley which is described as "racy citrus" in the menu and is perfectly apt. We surveyed the menu for some time and then decided to order four appetizer, two split salad, and entrees so we could taste as much as possible.
We had read Walter Nicholls Post Magazine review and he warned of the extreme spices used in the kitchen. I assume Mr. Nicholls has a wimpy palate, as we specifically asked if the spices had been toned down since the review and the staff adamantly said "no."
The GRILLED POLENTA with DUCK RAGU was a huge hit which "seared" Mr. Nicholls tongue delighted ours! The special of SPINACH & MUSHROOM STUFFED CALAMARI Braised in TOMATO BASIL SAUCE with Endive, Watercress & Daikon Salad was also a gem with tender whole squid stuffed to perfection.
BLACKENED SEA SCALLOPS were not too spicy at all (shame, Mr. Nicholls) and the MUSHROOM RAVIOLI in WHITE WINE & CREAM SAUCE was simply heavenly.
By this time we had moved on to a TULOCAY "Nord Family Vineyard" NAPA Pinot Noir 2002 that was recommended by owner/manager/sommelieuse Veronica and we loved the vanilla tones and not too intense fruit flavor with our salads: WARM GOAT CHEESE & CRANBERRY which was great and the amazing CARAMELIZED PEAR SALAD with warm pears and crumbled GORGONZOLA (not too much or too strong), Candied Walnuts and Apple Cider Vinaigrette; don't miss it!
If I have to make one complaint about Vero it might be that the staff is so enthusiastic, they often rush to clear plates before we finished, or before the entire table of four was done; although we loved it when the adorable bus boy kept coming by to ask if we were finished.
The entrees were all superb: GRILLED SNAKE RIVER FARMS RIBEYE with CHANTERELLE MUSHROOM CREAM SAUCE, Grilled Asparagus and Parmesan Potatoes seemed only to be low on the Parmeson, BRAISED KUROBATA PROK SHANK (also from Snake River Farms) is a Berkshire Heritage Prrk Shank with CREAMY BACON GRITS and SAUTEED CHARD, a true warm up in the winter. My TUSCAN MARINATED PORK RIBS are a completely different version of the traditional ribs marinated in OLIVE OIL, LEMON JUICE, GARLIC, HERBS, OLIVES and served with POTATO-LEEK-RED PEPPER Gratin. The BEEF TENDERLOIN MEDALLION & CRAB STUFFED BAKED SHRIMP with Asparagus and Potato Gratin are an indulgent surf & turf that will satisfy any apetite.
The wine list and wines by the glass are wonderful, and we even tasted an IBY HOCHACKER BLAUFRANKISCH 2004 from Austria that is not too big and would go with everything, but decided on a glorious BUCKLIN OLD HILL RANCH 2003 Sonoma Zinfandel that packed a 15.8% alcohol level but was not "in your face" and was terrific with all the meats.
Pastry Chef AMY HARPER does justice to the FROMAGE BLANC GATEAU with TART CHERRIES and Morello Sauce and thr APPLE CINNAMON CRISP with VANILLA ICE CREAM. The ASSORTED TRUFFLE plate melted in your mouth, but pricey for ones not homemade. Another hit was the VANILLA BEAN CREME BRULEE with Homemade Ginger Snaps.
It was a satisfying night and a new found favorite and with THREE BOTTLES of wine and all that food the bill was $151 per couple including TAX, but not tip--that's AMAZING!