Vinoteque on Melrose has all the promise of a good restaurant, but it has some work to do before it fulfills its' potential. My first visit was during the first Dine LA week because I wanted to try as many new places as I could while they offered prix fixe menus (they have extended the program through this Friday). The point of prix fixe menus is that they allow you to sample two or three courses showcasing the kitchen talents while saving your wallet some green to play with on another day.
My visit started well with a warm greeting by the hostess and a seat with a nice view of the spectacular wine collection. The waiter arrived with a menu and two wine lists, one for full bottles and another for glasses. I appreciated the chance to peruse their bottle collection, but does any single diner ever order a full bottle? I had to ask for the Dine LA menu which seemed a bit nonsensical considering every other table (the 5 surrounding me) was ordering off the Dine LA menu. I started with a frisee salad served with a panko poached egg, mustardy vinaigrette, lardons, and a smear of blue cheese on a thinly sliced toasted tranche. It was a bit hard to eat between the balanced slice of toast with blue cheese and the wild frisee, but so tasty I would order it again.
The above photo of the braised short rib is pretty but blurred a bit and that is a fitting metaphor for the dish itself. The meat was a bit sweet with a Hoisin flavor and two of my bites had a big kick of hot spice, an uneven flavor for a very tender piece of meat, but the vegetables were perfectly cooked and full of earthy flavor which complimented the dish. Since the regular menu lists the braised short ribs at $14 and the three course menu that included it was $16, maybe the restaurant was trying to make more of a profit off those diners who didn't know about the prix fixe. I enjoyed a glass of 7 Deadly Zins Zinfandel with the main course and at $7 it was a bargain pour.
Watching the dining room, it was evident that this was a very casual place. However this is not a good thing when the casual attitude permeates the waitstaff as diners had to request desserts and bills from busboys because they were unable to get their waiter's attention. There is definitely a communication glitch between the waitstaff and the diners because a busboy came out to deliver a coffee to three tables (including mine) who had not ordered coffee. I noticed that the pineapple dessert with raspberry sorbet was arriving at a nearby table, so I asked my waiter for that dessert at the beginning of my meal (he insisted that dessert be ordered early to ensure that it would be prepared in time for the end of the meal). I waited 15 minutes after I finished my main course to get my dessert. The dessert I was delivered was a completely different one than the one I ordered, I got a mascapone panna cotta instead of the pineapple dessert I ordered. When I reminded the waiter of my order, he promptly replaced it with the correct dessert.
The dessert was refreshing and colorful...and it tasted ever so faintly of fish! Perhaps the lackadaisical attitude of the front of the house was also in the back of the house as the kitchen did not pay attention to properly cleaning their cutting boards or knives. Sadly my experience was not the only one in regards to a sloppy kitchen because the table next to me found eggshell in their lamb meatballs.
I would go back to Vinoteque if they became a simple wine bar, sans food.