There's an old, disparaging comment about over-produced, under-composed musical theater, “No one ever walks away whistling the scenery.” And there's a certain element of that at Vin de Set's brunch. It's truly a lovely series of rooms, and the large rooftop area, with a fine view of downtown, draws rapturous fans, at least when the weather is pleasant. But somehow, the food doesn't -- quite -- measure up to what we'd expected.
Service, on a day when the house was very busy, kept up with things almost perfectly, and the hostess did a swell job of managing the mobbed entrance. (And why, please, do diners not make reservations on holidays?) But the degree of busy-ness played oddly into what struck us, particularly Joe, as a recurring theme.
The buffet line, given a room of its own (not, by the way, wheelchair-accessible as the dining area is), was constantly active. That meant a rapid turnover of food in the chafing dishes. Nevertheless, very little of it seemed to be hot. Warm, yes, but after a trip through the room and back to a table, much of the remaining heat had dissipated. Part is the nature of a buffet, certainly. But when a tray of scrambled eggs arrives from the kitchen, and the first portion on a plate is barely warm, something's amiss.
The brunch standards of bacon, sausage and potatoes were miss, hit, and hit; the bacon pretty limp although of good quality, the sausages quite fine, plump and meaty and the potatoes tender and nicely seasoned. An omelet station does nice work, and this would be a good time to point out that omelet stations can usually deliver a nicely fried egg or two if that's what a diner wants, as one of our friends did. And besides the elegant prime rib, there also was meat left over from a pig roast's trial run, tender, juicy, lean and lush.
From the fish side, excellent peel-and-eat shrimp were a high spot. Seafood pasta remained properly al dente, perhaps from the lack of heat, and was satisfactory but not outstanding. Mild white fish fillets (cod, perhaps) had been topped with a disc of crab filling and baked. One of the few dishes that were hot enough, the crab was excellent and the fish a pleasant contrast. A side of high-quality, rich, tasty smoked salmon was laid out, but Joe complained that it hadn't been sliced, forcing him to try to break it up with a fork. On closer examination, Ann discovered that it was indeed sliced, but had been placed backwards on the table so that the sliced end faced the wall rather than the front of the table.
And that brings up something else. No bagels for the lox. Cream cheese and capers, yes. Maybe the bagels arrived later, but there was also no toast, no muffins, no bread of any kind except the biscuits for the biscuits and gravy. Pretty good biscuits for mass-produced, to be sure, and the gravy was nicely spiced, although it seemed a little short of sausage.
The dessert table starred something we haven't ever seen on one -- a trifle. If you haven't come across it either, it's an English dessert that's made some headway into Southern cooking, and is composed of layers of cake, fruit, custard and/or whipped cream, usually presented in a straight-sided glass dish, often a pedestal, like a cake stand. This one starred strawberries, was similar to a strawberry shortcake, and quite delicious. (Many years ago, Ann saw one in England that included cubes of Jell-O. None here, thankfully.) A rich, slightly gooey peanut butter pie sat in small wedges, and tasty slices of banana-chocolate cake and pecan pie, plus chocolate mousse also awaited. The fresh fruit salad, for something lighter, was unusually good, the melon pieces being nicely ripe, sweet and juicy.
All in all, good value, but the kitchen needs to do something about the temperatures.
Vin de Set
2017 Chouteau Ave.
Brunch Sunday, Lunch Tues.-Fri., Dinner Tues.-Sun.
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Yes (but see above)
Brunch: $20, including coffee or tea