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Dining Out: Vin 909 turning 5 and still a local favorite

Dining Out: Vin 909 turning 5 and still a local favorite

Here's a good example of a no-brainer. You show up at Eastport's uber-popular (and you might want to take Uber, as parking is a pain) Vin 909 Winecafé on a cold November Tuesday evening to learn that the wait is at least an hour for our party of five. Raising your eyebrows that a weeknight would have a wait that long (they don't take reservations)?

Don't. That's pretty much the norm at this cute little bungalow that's home to Chef Justin Moore's fine cooking. So, off we go to try to carve a little stand-up space in the busy bar area.

Uncomfortably settled by the wall, next to a solitary woman taking up an entire table and talking loudly on her phone (why is it that those conversations you're forced to listen to are always so boring!), we prepare for our hour-long wait.

Ergo, the no-brainer: The hostess approaches to say, "If you'd like to sit on the porch, I can seat you right now." Happily we scamper after her and arrange ourselves around a cramped table by a space heater where we'll be exposed to chilly drafts all evening as the front door opens and closes, opens and closes. So, why would diners willingly subject themselves to these conditions? You're about to find out.

Wine aficionados will so appreciate the carte des vins at Vin 909 — most wines are included in three sections of tempting, well-selected offerings each with an appealing price point (some wines are $6/glass and $21/bottle; some are $8/glass and $28/bottle; and the priciest are only $12/glass and $42/ bottle). We indulged in Rhiannon ($28), an excellent value in a red blend that was characterized by hints of dark cherry and star anise. We'd also recommend the Quatro Mani Barbera and the Annabella 5 blend.

One oft-heard complaint about restaurants that specialize in small plates is that many dishes are difficult to share. If that were the case at Vin 909, divvying up among several people at those small tables would be problematic. Fortunately, Chef Moore has designed his menu to be easily shared and we were able to sample many tasty dishes without difficulty.

The first dishes to arrive at the table were olives and almonds, a selection of cheese and meat, and a salad. Olives and Almonds ($7) introduce one to the sybaritic pleasures of warm olives (Niçoise, Castel Verano, and oil-cured Moroccan). The dish came with savory roasted almonds and (inexplicably) toasted baguette slices. The olives were a real treat.

Artisanal cheeses and cured meats formed the basis of the Chef's Selection ($14), served also with toasted baguette slices. One taste of the meats and cheeses explained why Vin 909 is so proud to post the names of their sources. Exceptional, just way too skimpy in terms of portion size (not something one is often able to say.)

On the other hand, $11 seemed a steal for the delectable Gorgonzola Salad — fresh baby arugula, savory almonds, a pleasant kick from some pepperoncini, and more of those tasty olives. Sprinkled liberally with top-quality Gorgonzola and dressed with golden balsamic vinaigrette. We took fond memories of that salad back out into the frosty night.

The next round was evenly split between hits and quasi-misses. The Cast Iron Skirt Steak ($15) has been deservedly a big hit at Vin 909 since the beginning, and they should never take it off the menu. Succulent and flavorful beef with a spicy Moroccan sauce that should make Chef Moore's culinary instructors give themselves a pat on the back.

Similarly, Mushroom Risotto ($15) got rave reviews from everyone in our party. Creamy and with complex flavors, it worked on every level. Just hope it's on the menu when you go.

The two dishes that earned the quasi-miss status did so by virtue of being under-seasoned and consequently underwhelming: Spaetzle ($15) and Tuna Tartare ($15). Both showed promise, but were too bland to deliver.

There's a reason so many people walk out of Vin 909 with a pizza box in hand. Their pizzas are terrific. The evening special White Pizza ($17) was cheesy and marvelous while the popular Spotted Pig ($15) was delicious with its soppressata and its wild boar meatballs, but would have benefited from a bit more time in the oven.

Our reward for sitting nicely by the drafty door was to indulge ourselves in mouth-watering Pot de Crème au Chocolat ($7) and Butterscotch Pudding ($8). Creamy and rich and luscious.

In April, Vin 909 Winecafé will celebrate its fifth anniversary, a testament to the fact that local foodies are quite content to endure crowded conditions and lengthy waits in order to experience a wonderful wine list (impressive selection of beers as well) and superior seasonal menus featuring farm-to-table cuisine . We Annapolitans know a good thing when we see it.

A final note

It's a good idea to issue this reminder periodically: if you are dining out with a coupon or enjoying one of the restaurant's promotion deals (buy one entree and get one free, buy one item and get another for half-price, etc.), remember that your server won't be able to get half off his or her rent or utility bill. Gratuities should be based on the total and not the discounted total. There are differing opinions about whether that policy includes tipping on half-price bottles of wine, but it always applies to food.

Terra Walters is a free-lance writer and editor based in Annapolis.


WHAT: Vin 909 Winecafé

WHERE: 909 Bay Ridge Ave. (Eastport) Annapolis MD 21403

TELEPHONE: 410.990.1846


HOURS: Wednesday-Friday, 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. for lunch; Tuesday, 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Wednesday and Thursday, 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m., Fri., 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.; Saturday, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.; Sunday, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Closed Monday.


FIRST COURSES: $7 to $14

MAIN COURSES: $11 to $18


CREDIT CARDS: All major credit cards are accepted.


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