In less than a year, Fort Myers’Chef Daniel Virola’s cuisine has taken Twisted Vine Bistro from being a “newbie” to one of Lee county’s top ten restaurants. Chef Dan describes himself as “an old-school chef in a young man’s body.” This dynamic passionate CIA-Hyde Park trained chef made his mark at Chops Steakhouse, then was chosen to helm Twisted Vine.
|Chef Dan Virola with Mahi Mahi|
Formerly popular as Harold Balink’s H2, Twisted Vine Bistro (TVB) has left the attractive large central wood and brass bar, warm wood walls and wooden floors intact, and changed only the menu and wine selections. Harold now ably heads Cru. Chef Dan has crafted home run after home run on the menu as well as on the well chosen wine list.
Servers Jerome and Andrea were enthusiastic in assisting my dining partner and I in choosing a memorable assortment of dishes.
With a name like Twisted Vine Bistro, you know the wines will be a good selection, and we were well pleased with the whites and reds we paired with our choices. The wine prices range from $6 to around $13 for a generous pour.
There’s a good assortment-Malbec, Cabs, Pinot Noir, Chenin Blanc, Meeker Merlot, Tempranillos…on and on, with familiar as well as new vintners to try.
The appetizers range from $5 to $10, and are refreshingly unique, not the usual choices, with goodies like Guava glazed pork rib tips, yucca fries, and crispy jumbo shrimp with a carrot-ginger reduction.
We started with the $10 Tuna tar tar. Fried lattice potatoes alternate layers with a generous portion of tuna in an attractive vertical presentation.
Drizzled with a spicy olive vinaigrette and decked with cape berries, capers, and garlic fresh herbs then topped with microgreens, it’s fresh, with a crispness to every bite of tuna from the diced mild red onions. Debbie, my dining companion says, “This is a huge portion.”
Chef Dan has taken a commonly found tuna theme, enhanced it, and made it a tasty and beautiful presentation at a superb price. I recommend this appetizer!
Debbie also appreciated the black cloth napkins. Why? When you stand up, it doesn’t show a collection of stains and food on it as easily as a white napkin. Black napkins cover many sins!
Pan seared sockeye salmon ($20) is glazed with hoisin- brown sugar, served with wasabi whipped potatoes, steamed broccolini (admirably served still a touch crunchy) and a pineapple and lemongrass broth.
It’s a good sized portion, perfectly cooked as ordered. The hoisin sauce brings out the salmon’s best, without competition. The usual mashed potatoes served elsewhere are, well, bland. The touch of wasabi in the potatoes is welcome if you enjoy a nice hint of heat, and it’s a welcome contrast to the hoisin’s slight sweetness. The dish is simple, and all works together. This is not surprising from a former Chops chef . This was admirably paired with a crisp Chenin Blanc from South Africa’s ?Dinum Winery. The wine glasses are ample and large, better to let the wine breathe.
For a main course, the two 3-4 ounce filets of beef ($25) wrapped with applewood cured bacon are a home run. Our order was served medium rare, as ordered.
The bacon keeps the 3-4 oz filet tender, and the bleu cheese crumble topping is a welcome addition. Sauce Diane is a classic complement. The French fries are crisp and freshly made.
The arugula salad has a light sherry-Dijon dressing with a touch of truffle essence. The Gain Bay Cabernet Family wine from Napa is a blend of three Bordeaux varieties; Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot that pairs well with the beef filet and the blue cheese crumbles on top. Highly recommended.
Other diners told us they were very pleased with the $19 Grilled fourteen ounce pork porterhouse, served with a cheddar potato cake, and pineapple, apple and mango curried chutney, topped with sautéed spinach and micro spinach and micro arugula.
Chef Dan’s Stuffed diver scallops from Portland, Maine ($24) are stuffed with prosciutto and basil, with a sauté of black forbidden rice, lump crab, garlic fresh rosemary, thyme, sage, parsley and basil.
The tender scallops are sauced with truffled and herbed pureed sweet potato sauce. Delicious!
The Sake Steamed Sea Bass ($24) comes with jasmine rice, spicy Asian stir-fry & steamed Bok Choy.
Portions are large, fresh, and creatively spiced and presented.
Musician Patrick Jerome offers his amplified acoustic guitar and vocals at a comfortable volume-easy to talk to a companion or to concentrate on his music.
As evening goes on he kicks up the pace from mellow dinner music to light rock and roll favorites.
Chef Dan selects the best products! Produce comes from Fort Myers Farmer Ken Ryan in season, and also Happy Foods. Chef Dan requests micro wasabi, micro coriander and other delights ahead of the growing season to offer you some unique greens. He also uses Fresh Point’s produce, East Coast’s Premier Produce (who also own Cusano’s Italian Bakery in Fort Lauderdale) for breads and produce. Fish comes from Fort Myers’ Blue Star, and my favorite- Halpern’s. He also uses Grand Western’s wild fish and seafood. Snapper comes from Florida Keys. Watermelon salad is truly locally sourced. Chef Dan says, “Why pay for a California-grown watermelon to be shipped to Fort Myers? Anyone can go down the roads for road side produce, or stop at Farmers Market like the one at Centennial Park and get delicious local honeydew and oranges in season. I really like to buy local and seasonal best. In winter I make a smoked potato soup, cumin-asparagus soup, fine for vegetarians, and for others I sprinkle some chorizo on top, and for the smoked potato soup put applewood smoked bacon on top.” This chef truly loves his profession.
The portion sizes let you save room for dessert. The ($8) White chocolate vanilla bread pudding is ”to die for!” The bread pudding is made with croissants, not bread. Add cream, eggs and you’ve got the components of a crème brulee. Mix in chunks of white chocolate, and a layer of white chocolate on top. Mmmm! Bread pudding was never this delicious.
Grand Marnier Navan vanilla liquor reduction is blended with sweet caramel butterscotch sauce. The dish is painted with stripes of rich raspberry reduction with hints of lemon zest. Breyer’s vanilla bean ice cream sits on top of the bread, er, croissant pudding. Get a bit of each component on the tip of your spoon, and savor this. Debbie blurts out, “It’s orgasmic.” A woman at another table knowingly grins. I know where I’m coming for Valentine’s Day!
We really enjoy the relaxing ambiance, with low light, warm woods, very good music, and a good crowd of friendly people. Food is high quality, very attractively presented. It’s a great place for drinks or dinner. Chef Dan has been creating 4 gourmet course dinners paired with wine for $49. Proteins include lamb, duck, and diver scallops. It’s offered every 4th Sunday of the month. I’ve seen the menus-wow. Sign up early-the wine dinners sell out fast! There’s no local competition around for his wine dinner quality and price. People come up from Marco Island and down from Punta Gorda for each wine dinner.
Bonus-Go to Fort Myers’ Art Walk the first Friday of each month. Enjoy local music on the third Saturday of each month, and pop into Twisted Vine for apps or a dinner. The “buzz on the street” is out- Twisted Vine is a fort Myers' hot spot!
While we were dining, the kitchen was also cooking for a party of 80 folks on the rear patio! Chef Dan stayed cool through it all, even smiling as the evening progressed. He is so passionate about preparing delicious cuisine. His selection of super fresh produce, fine sauces daily made, and best beef and fish shows a man in love with his craft. We’re coming back!
2214 Bay St., Fort Myers, 226-1687, www.twistedvinebistro.com
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