Once, with a foolhardy vision and a swagger in my stride, I decided to make chocolate from raw cacao beans at home, hours before a big dinner party. I don’t know if it’s the adrenaline, the thrill of the challenge or both, but right now,
owner Erin Wade is looking more nervous than I remember feeling that day as I retreated into the weeds. At home, I could collapse, privately, into a sobbing heap. Wade has no such luxury. The masses are relentless, hungry for more—and don’t forget the dressing on the side.
If salad is rabbit food, Vinaigrette is Watership Down, an Elysian kingdom that doesn’t begin or end with greens but, rather, exalts them. Vinaigrette is dynamic organic—a cool and elegant space where opalescent-jade, nursery-green tile meets industrial playground over birch tables and beachcomber-blonde wood floors, as beautiful and reserved as a Scandinavian supermodel or the very nicest thing at IKEA. Here, cool seafoam space meets jaunty vermilion in Xavier Pauchard’s Marais AC chairs, said to have originally been designed for use in battleships’ weather-forecasting rooms. Staying true to form, I crane about in mine to assess the climate in this ocean of bobbing, chewing heads.
Without even having met Wade, one glance at Vinaigrette tells me that she will be likable, warm and probably a little neurotic (which makes her, as it turns out, even more likable). Wade’s main success, as far as I’m concerned, has been materializing her longtime dream in a less than dreamy location. By midday, the walls are sun-dappled and lovely but the acoustics are a problem.
In a twist of fate, one might argue that restaurants such as Vinaigrette are in danger of becoming another example of the way in which fashion usurps and is associated with a certain stage of capitalistic civilization. So it is the ultimate irony that Wade, worshipful as she is of all things fashion, is not guilty of taking such liberties. The menu reads like a dream or, rather, a romp in a pasture. Curiously understated and label-free, the menu implies that Wade eschews the use of obsequious ingredients or adjectives, at the very least. In fact, she does care: The arugula, mesclun and kale she serves often come from her own greenhouse; the bacon is Nueske’s; and her desserts are made daily by hand. I suspect that the menu will eventually need to be narrowed down; the kitchen has a lot going on, by the looks of the fine print and the dizzying variety of dressings. That said, every dish I tasted showed a similar earnestness and promise, which I’ll take any day over a big, smug steak.
Vinaigrette’s offerings are divided into classic, signature and seasonal salads, myriad protein add-ons and a smattering of soups, sides and sandwiches. As with any vinaigrette, heaven lies in the balance, which isn’t missing in the Greek salad ($7.95), reminiscent of a deconstructed gazpacho. So what is missing? The hallmark flavors of a Greek salad, for starters; to its detriment, it lacks feta cheese and olives (though I did think it would have made a tasty Middle Eastern-style salsa crudo). What it isn’t missing is flavor; I could sit eating it all day long.
Though I had high hopes for the cherry tart ($8.95), I found myself wishing for a different cherry than the tough, leathery bing, and the pronounced acidity of the lemon vinaigrette made my mouth pucker. Nothing is tastier than the Omega, aka Avocado-Piñon ($9.95), which is delicious; next time I’ll try it with salmon. The Nutty Pear-Fessor ($10.95) with grilled Bosc pears, bacon, pecans and gorgonzola in a ruby port vinaigrette was sublime on one visit and overdressed on another.
Soups tend to be underseasoned and have undergone experimentation; we liked the delicious wild mushroom stew ($4-$6) with fried olive bread best throughout; the squash soup lacked snap, as ours had missed its mantle of truffle oil and pepitas. The sandwiches are very good, particularly the roasted veggies with provolone and basil aioli ($8), and even more so when paired with bites of the excellent baby arugula and duck confit ($13) with goat cheese, roasted pears and hibiscus vinaigrette, the strongest of the seasonal salads. It ranks with Eat Your Peas (baby lettuce, sweet green peas, bacon, savory white mushrooms saute, Asiago, tart goat cheese vinaigrette, $8.95) and any of Wades’ wonderful desserts as the best-loved dishes.
Over contemplative forkfuls of the Eat Your Peas, I am reminded of a restaurant where I once worked. There, your server, brandishing an enameled carafe, appears table side and pours a slow, mossy green pea dressing around a handsome stacked centerpiece of fried miscellany. Indeed, you won’t find any such pretense or panache at Vinaigrette. What you will find, in quantity, is people who care about whether or not you’ve enjoyed your meal.
For me, the only real measure of a restaurant is this: Would I come back? And though nothing I’ve eaten yet at Vinaigrette has been perfect, it was promising and I wasn’t unhappy to eat any of it. The food will need a bit of work in order to catch up with the love that clearly went into the place. I left Vinaigrette happy, will return again and again, and I hope to see it thrive.