Where: Middleton, WI
Costs: Appetizers $7-9, Entrees $11-20, Wine $29-75/bottle
Not the first time we've been there, but this time included a wine adventure. Across the board, for the record, we've always loved Vin Santo, especially their incredible and huge tiramisu as well as their tendency to have very fresh seafood. The only thing I've not liked there is the Italian seafood stew, but so far, I've never found a tomato-based seafood soup that I do like, so whatever.
This time we ordered: Babera d'Asti 2001 In Pectore Tenutta Grenatto, priced at $27, and it normally retails for about $16 online...... "Insalate Caesare," Pesto Linguine, and one of the evening specials: shrimp over a thin fresh linguine with a lightly cream-touched arrabiata sauce. Dessert was chocolate cheesecake with a drizzle of a vanilla cree anglais-style sauce.
Wine adventure: for the first time ever, we got a bottle that was well and truly corked. To my vinegar-loving palate, it began alright - nothing special - but to Kelly, it was horrid from the first sip. As it bloomed with airing, it simply got worse. Finally, Kelly insisted we tell the waitress, so I called her over and informed her, breaking through my tendency to be afraid to complain at any point in a meal - a sort of "you ordered it, so you deal with it" mentality. She took the bottle back, and all the waitresses tasted it, and they all made faces. They brought us a new bottle explaining that the restaurant simply send the bottle back to the distributor and thus loses no money on the deal. This was a big relief and something I had never known, but will remember from now on (this is not the first time we've discussed the potential "corkiness" of our wines at a restaurant). A bit later, the owner came over to apologize, and we had a grand time talking to her about the whole thing.
As far as I'm concerned, this is an example of customer service done amazingly well, in the way we always assume it was done in the past (though I suspect it wasn't, necessarily, and that quality of service then as now depends on the depth of one's pockets in many places).
The wine itself was a fruity example of a good Piedmont red blend, with a fruity bright acidity, full-bodied with a hint of oak, but a dark and subtle rather than a toppy oak note. It went very well with the main entrees, but I think it might go even better with spiced meats (salamis, etc) or vodka sauces. It's a rather dry red, so I don't think I'd pair it with a heavy red sauce, but it might cut through a cream sauce very well. It's definitely made for Italian food.
As for the food - the salad was very good, though both of us prefer anchovy paste or diced anchovy that's chopped into the salad dressing rather than strips of anchovy on top of the salad. Both entrees were exceptional. The pesto was heavy on the basil but light on the oil, which made for a very light yet flavorful pesto that looked far more saucy than it actually was. The pine nuts were whole toasted nuts rather than mixed in, and provided a nice texture contrast. The basil was a little less finely chopped than many "professional" sauces, more like what happens when I make pesto, and that was also nice - it looked real. The shrimp was very fresh and perfectly cooked, which can be hard in a sauce/pasta dish, as the heat of the sauce/pasta can continue to cook the shrimp on occasion. The sauce was richer than the pesto, but not too creamy, with a nice subtle kick of arrabiata to it. The only thing I wasn't over-impressed with was the chocolate cheesecake - it was good but not impressive, and lacked the finesse of the entrees. And it paled in comparison to my prior experiences with the tiramisu.
Vin Santo remains, as ever, a great place for a special dinner.