The 10-course Flavors of Christmas menu at Wine Vault & Bistro is an annual tradition of mine. It’s a perfect way to ring in the holidays with all the warmth, spice, and coziness of Christmas while also sampling the restaurant’s classic tasting menu and wine pairing format.
1. Winter citrus salad | 2. Seafood chowder
The seafood chowder was the perfect first bite to start a comforting Christmas dinner, fishy in the subtlest way, warm and inviting. Bites of salty, crispy bacon cubes cut through the seafood and the chive oil on top added a bright, fresh element. The bits of potato were soft but still retained a hint of a crunch.
Winter citrus salad: light on dressing, big on citrus punch. The concept was solid, but execution made this the weakest course for me. The honey & lemon dressing was too weak by itself to stand up to the bitterness of the frisée and walnuts. A little more sweetness and tang would have gone a long way. The bites of grapefruit, however, were little gems when you hit one. Sweet and tart and refreshing, a burst of flavor.
3. Duck breast | 4. Pan-roasted quail & brown butter stuffing
Looks like: Budapest.
Tastes like: Budapest plus pomegranates.
As soon as this plate was placed on the table in front of my dining partner & me, we were immediately reminded of our recent trip to Europe. The aesthetic and the flavors of these two courses were almost identical to many of our meals in Budapest, and the cube of savory brown butter stuffing was reminiscent of the pressed potato we ate at Aizle in Edinburgh).
That brown butter stuffing, though. Incredible. The nutty flavor of the brown butter ran through it, and although it was pressed on the outside, the inside was still soft and bready. Brown butter was a thoughtful touch that elevated this stuffing into a very festive, Christmas version of the classic comfort food.
The combination of these two courses on one plate created a very complex dish. Each bite was different from the one before. A bite of quail & stuffing changed dramatically depending on whether or not you also got a pomegranate aril at the same time.
5. Pork tenderloin & butternut squash| 6. Pork belly
Pork belly, tenderloin, and pancetta. Lots of pork in this dish. It opened my eyes to how good pork belly can be—that wonderful, melty meat butter disintegrating in your mouth.
The butternut squash itself was a bit bland, but when I got a bite of pork tenderloin, butternut squash puree, and cranberry preserves, the flavors sang. That, and the quail + brown butter stuffing + pomegranate, were the two most quintessentially Christmas bites of this meal.
7. Vodka + black pepper hanger steak | 8. Roasted lamb chop
This was the dish that confused me the most. For the most part, Wine Vault & Bistro’s choices regarding dish composition and how to plate two courses together are usually impeccable. It’s one of the many reasons why WV&B is one of my favorite restaurants in San Diego.
The combination of steak & lamb chop makes sense theoretically, but I struggled with this dish. If I ate the wrong components with each respective meat, the taste threw me off. They clearly were not intended to go together. I made the mistake of getting a bite of hazelnuts & Brussels sprouts with the steak, instead of with the lamb chop, and my whole palate was confused. After that, I was very careful to consult the menu and double check each forkful before I put it in my mouth.
The lamb was very tender and melted off the bone at the touch of a fork or knife. Though the smoked onion soubise and crispy onion strings (the best part of any dish) didn’t quite work with the lamb, they harmonized perfectly with the steak.
9. Gingersnap cheesecake | 10. Brown butter pound cake
The cheesecake flavors were exactly what you’d expect from the description: cheesecake, gingersnap, candy cane. A pleasant surprise, the cheesecake had the consistency of baked and melted Brie instead of the stodgy, dense block of cheese I’d come to expect.
The brown butter pound cake was good enough, but the texture felt more to me like a drier version of bread pudding. The Italian meringue helped, but when you ran out of it, good luck. I would have liked more sauce or whipped cream with it.
Not the best desserts Wine Vault has ever done (try any of their bread puddings instead), but any bite with a little bit of that red purée (rhubarb? raspberry?) tasted very like Christmas. Alongside WV&B’s legendary eggnog (mostly straight booze), it was a fitting ending to a festive meal.
While I’m partial to the 10-course Thanksgiving and Christmas menus at Wine Vault & Bistro, all of their menus are solid. Try a prix fixe dinner during a major holiday and return for a smaller chef’s 5-course tasting menu or winemaker dinner. You won’t be disappointed. (The smaller dinners also come with their bread + butter + salt, which is insanely good.)
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