Shake + Stir: Vino Grille & Spirits
CVLUX’s Donna Kaczmarski invited five local ladies to join her for the fifth installment of Shake+Stir, held at the updated Vino Grille and Spirits. Vino’s owner’s, Chuck and Jen Van Fleet, arranged a sample menu, comprised of three cocktails, two appetizers, two entrées, and two desserts, for Jane Avekian-Tamberi, Dr. Kathleen Behr, Annie Foreman, Jenny Kasparian Hoekstra, Ayde Mendibles, and Donna to enjoy in the main bar area of this intimate restaurant.
Discussion on the best uses for coconut oil, effective morning rituals, health, and favored “me-time” options ensued that clearly expressed the ladies’ unanimous appreciation for personal wellness. Though this is the first time these women had met, you’d think they were life-long friends. Yet Jenny swore she knew Annie somehow, but couldn’t quite pinpoint exactly where from... Our tentative server, Daniel, ushered the ladies to a table set with a lovely floral arrangement of anemones, lilies, roses, and dainty flowering foliage atop a bed of spring greenery, surrounding a trio of floating gold candles, made by Simply Flowers’ Mariah Walton.
If you’re looking for a place to eat in Fresno with a patio, add Vino Grille and Spirits to your list. Another perk; “I thought it was just wine, but it’s a full bar!” Kathleen delightfully observed. So even though this is a wine-centric restaurant, with over 40 wines available by the glass, you can bring your die-hard mixer friends with you and know there is something for everyone.
I believe the saying goes: “Wine before liquor, never been sicker. Liquor before wine, you’ll be fine.” Maybe I adapted that phrase from beer, but whatever...it works. And the first cocktail had both! Daniel immediately served the Summer Citrus White Sangria, composed of Crown Regal Apple, apple juice, Pinot Grigio, and a splash of citrus. It’s “so refreshing; fresh, crisp, not too sweet,” Jane mused of the sangria. “Perfect for spring.” Walking through this restaurant is meant to emulate proceeding into a wine cellar...the moody, dim kind, with rustic, exposed beams and stone floors, that transports you to a winery somewhere in the middle of California’s scenic rolling hills. You know that feeling of utter relaxation you get when you make the drive to Paso Robles and walk into your favorite wine-tasting room? It’s like that, sans the worry of how you’ll make it to the next winery. Maybe you’ll consider finally enrolling in sommelier classes? I sure did.
But if adding another item on your “To-Do List” really isn’t an option, just join the Vino Grille and Spirits Wine Club. CVLUX Editor in Chief, David Manning, shared that he is one of over 725 members. “They take money from me every month, then I forget to pick [the wine] up, and then I have a stock pile waiting for me! It’s amazing!” Customers have the option to choose between Vino’s “Black Bag Club” (for $40) or “Cellar Club” (for $80) memberships, which automatically renew monthly. Details for each option can be found at VinoGrille.com. Eager guests may choose to register at either the restaurant or online.
Vino is known for their bruschetta assortments, which have stayed with the menu since the Van Fleets added hardier offerings in 2011. Customers can choose from six varieties, or, for the indecisive, opt for a Vino Signature Trio. The Mozzarella Bruschetta staple is an assembly of fresh, melted mozzarella, tomato slices, basil leaves, balsamic reduction, olive oil drizzle, and salt and pepper atop toasted French bread. Jenny loved the use of “full-bodied basil” atop a “smooth cheese.”
Looking to try something a little different? Order the crispy Portobello Fries, made of beer-battered Portobello mushroom strips, and served with garlic aioli. “These are heavenly!” Annie proclaimed with delight. “And the dipping sauce...wow.”
A bottle of Schramsberg Sparkling Rosé also made it to the table while the appetizers went around. For some reason, this implored Annie to reveal that she is the writer of “Real Housewife of Fresno” blog. (Note that these ladies love the BRAVO Housewives franchise.) “That’s you!?” Jenny exclaimed in excitement. “That’s where I know you from!” Mystery solved.
The Cucumber Blood Orange Cosmopolitan was made with Hendrick’s Gin, Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur, and fresh cucumber. Ayde admitted that it was particularly quenching; another “wonderful spring cocktail.”
By far, the biggest hit of the night was the Fig Pizza. Ayde described it best as a “beautiful blend of sweet, salt, and creaminess.” Herb oil, spinach, manchego cheese, goat cheese, prosciutto, and fig jam come together upon a thin, crispy crust that can stand on its own merit. Annie put it more simply; “It’s an explosion of flavor!” And as an avid jam maker, Kathleen was intrigued by the rather sweet fiAg jam.
s the house-made Acorn Squash Ravioli arrived at the table, Jane, a passionate cook and entertainer, couldn’t contain her excitement. Made with meatless Bolognese and a pumpkin seed garnish, it’s a Seasonal House Made Pasta offering. Jane said this dish was “out of this world” good, and Jenny added that it truly tasted homemade.
The Salted Crown cocktail was a perfect way to tie the following sweets together. A mixture of Salted Caramel Crown and Martinelli’s Sparkling Cider, garnished with a dried apple crisp, the ladies agreed that it was mild enough that even non-whiskey drinkers could relish this sweet concoction. Basically, it’s a liquid caramel apple.
Chuck came over as the Homemade Twix Bar was being presented. He revealed that his wife, Jen, makes them herself, and that it takes her three days to create the dessert. “You mean crack!?” Annie shouted. The crispy cookie base is covered in a layer of dark chocolate, sprinkled with sea salt, and served with homemade caramel ice cream. Quite addicting, indeed.
Vino’s House Made Bread Pudding is made using sea salt caramel, and topped with house-made whiskey sauce and whipped cream. “So good, so much,” conceded Jenny; it’s more than enough to share.
By the end of the night, a charity event was in the works...perhaps that was the accumulation of the four drinks sitting in front of each lady speaking. Three of the six ladies admitted to dancing on bar tops and tables, and everyone admitted their guilty pleasure. A mutual love of travel, especially to France in the spring, immerged as another common interest. Though they may not have all agreed on the effectiveness of coconut oil to solve all wellness concerns, everyone consented to what Donna revealed as the origin of Shake+Stir—good food and drink has a delightful way of bringing good people together.
Hosted At Vino Grille & Spirits
Managing Editor Lauren Barisic
Photographer Don Dizon
Florals Simply Flowers