My husband was out of town, which meant I had been flying solo all week with the kids.
It was almost nine on a Saturday evening, the live acoustic guitar wizardry of Danny Godinez, was well underway as I burst through the front door and rushed toward a stool at the varnished, U-shaped bar like Marshawn Lynch going Beast Mode into the end zone.
Vino at the Landing. Touchdown.
You don’t have to be a wine connoisseur to navigate the menu at Vino’s. The staff is user-friendly: knowledgeable without pretension that frees you to ask what might appear to be obvious questions.
I began with deliciously chilled Chardonnay while munching on a shrimp salad where the salty bay shrimp contrasted with earthy avocado, acid from diced tomatoes, sweet and spicy balsamic vinegar and crisp squares of cucumbers on a bed of lettuce.
All of these flavors I’ve had before, but different.
After a challenging week, it was heavenly to just sit back listen to the melodic plucking and strumming of an acoustic guitar, melodically reminding me of the rising and falling of the ocean waves.
The wine bar was busy, but in a good way: enough seating for all and perfect lighting, dim without being too dark,
I watched the bartender fill up what is called a “Flight,” a wiry contraption contorted into a tree shape that holds three glasses of wine filled with just enough vino for a few sips of a few well-paired varieties.
Local art lined burgundy walls with beige accents.
A billowy, playful overfilled bowl of freshly hot popped corn lightly glistening with Truffle infused olive oil was delivered to a guest on a tray by a smiling server.
“You can read all the management books, but the key is hiring and maintaining good people. It’s my job to make them happy,” explained Owner Rick McMaster, a former Intel Engineer turned restaurateur. “Key people have stayed here for a long time.”
Executive Chef Eli Edmundson is surely a testament to McMaster’s philosophy.
Chef Eli has worked at Vino for five years, arriving just six months after it opened. Originally from Florida, Chef Eli began his career teaching art classes by day and cooking in restaurants at night. Today, he has amassed 21 years of cooking experience in a variety of cuisines: Mediterranean, sushi, French, and Mexican.
“I enjoy the wine bar atmosphere, because I’m not stuck with one cuisine,” he said.
For Chef Eli it’s all about keeping it simple and balanced, which, quite frankly, is the hardest thing to do in life and in food.
“People have a disdain for truffle oil because it’s overused, but on the popcorn it really shines because popcorn is a blank canvas,” Chef Eli explained.
According to Chef Eli its popularity is based on the fact that each kernel has to have the right amount of oil and the right amount of salt to enhance the flavor.
When he started, Chef Eli shared space with the dishwasher but his space expanded across the hall where an office was converted into a small but rocking kitchen.
So what began as primarily appetizers is now a fully developed menu.
“We have so many regulars who like the classics with a spin, but are also interested in trying new things as long as they’re well prepared,” he said.
“I love this combination of colors; The red, yellow, green work really well together. They remind me of home,” Chef Eli said, referring to the mis en place for the Mahi Mahi corn and flour tortilla’s we were composing.
He slipped the still sizzling Mahi Mahi, dusted with paprika, onto a lightly oiled and toasted corn and flour tortilla, dressed with a house-made chipotle mayonnaise that was spicy but not bossy. The freshly grilled Mahi Mahi was then topped with shredded cabbage, oven-roasted pineapple and red peppers: a technique that brings out the sugar from the pineapples and caramelizes the fruit.
It’s finished with whole pieces of cilantro meticulously plucked one-by-one from the stock.
And though I’ve never been to Florida, I felt in that moment I was experiencing a bite of it in Renton.
I glanced over at the person sitting next to me at the bar as a plate of Ratatouille with quinoa was delivered from Chef Eli’s kitchen, another stunning rendition of balanced flavors with a meticulous attention to detail.
“Ahhh,” I said, as the music wandered from an original riff to the familiar and unexpectedly delightful chord arrangement of “Blackbird,” by the Beatles.
“I love this song.” I said.
“Me too,” my new friend at the bar replied, “He can’t stop or he’ll make me cry.”
I knew exactly how she felt. But I wasn’t sad, I was enjoying getting lost in the energy of the place.
And in sharing a familiar moment with new friends at a new place: A favorite song rendered in a way that was both unique and deliciously sweet. Like the food.
An evening spent at Vino’s at the Landing was a pleasant reminder the simple pleasure of an acoustic guitar in the hands of a master, surrounded by people enjoying themselves and staff that cared about giving their guests an amazing experience through thoughtfully composed meals that were familiar and yet totally unique.
I can’t wait to return with my husband!