Restaurant Review: Vintana in Escondido

Vintana embraces the unconventional in North County.

ocated in the penthouse level of The Centre at Lexus Escondido, Vintana offers modern California Cuisine alongside a stunning panorama of rolling hills, stunning skyscapes and the latest-model luxury cars. The Centre at Lexus Escondido is a pleasantly odd place. In addition to its role as a “super car dealership,” it includes a golf simulator, business center, private library and planned retail space, not to mention the oodles of square-footage available to rent for special events like weddings. 

Weddings? At a car dealership? It’s this very unique experience that first draws people to this Escondido restaurant. Your exclusive first look. 

Vintana Wine + Dine

1205 Auto Park Way, Escondido, CA
(760) 745-7777 | Visit website

“People are very surprised by it,” admits Cynthia Peterson, the restaurant’s floor manager. “They wouldn’t have imagined a restaurant of this caliber.”

Curiosity may draw people in, but it’s the food and ambience that will make them stay. Vintana is the latest venture by the Cohn Restaurant Group, which is no stranger to San Diego’s dining scene. Owners of such top venues as The Prado and Island Prime/C Level, Cohn has long been a county favorite.

And if the Cohn restaurants are a family, Vintana is the quirky youngest sibling, displaying traces of her lineage while marching to her own drumbeat. 

“Everything about this North County location is unconventional,” says David Cohn, who founded the Cohn Restaurant Group with his wife Lesley. “After hearing about the space over time, we weren’t sold on the idea, but the moment we laid eyes on it, we immediately identified its potential. We’re known for taking risks, and we embrace these one-of-a-kind locations.”

The choice was a wise one. Everything about Vintana is light, airy and fun, from the initial lift up the glass elevator to the restaurant, to the friendly staff, to the open-air Lenai dining, complete with firepits that urge diners to linger over cocktails. The interior style is contemporary and chic without trying too hard. The focal points of the dining room are the impressive glass chandeliers and the 17-foot windows that capture gorgeous vistas, no matter the time of day. Sunset views are rivaled only by night-time cityscapes, lighted by the Bellagiostyle fountains below.

Wine Retail at Vinata in North County FINE magazine August 2012

The cuisine at Vintana is just as original as its venue. The menu is equally familiar and unexpected, mixing a variety of trusted-and-true flavors with creative combinations. For example, a signature dish that has been generating a lot of buzz is the Blackberry-Glazed Bison Spareribs — fall-offthe- bone ribs served on a bacon-pecan corn waffle with local greens and a blackberry-bourbon gastrique.

“I wanted it to be original,” says Executive Chef Deborah Scott, a partner of the Cohn Restaurant Group and the mastermind behind Kemo Sabe, Indigo Grill and Island Prime/C Level.

“The menu is diverse and eclectic, but I keep it grounded in Southern flavors,” the Virginia native said.

For starters, don’t miss Chef Deborah’s Roasted Nut-Crusted Brie, served with jalapeño jelly, honey-roasted garlic and grilled ciabatta. Also popular is the Charcuterette, which features bacon-wrapped dates, spiced mixed nuts, blue cheese, pecorino, prosciutto, spicy giardiniera, spiced olives and fig-molasses baguette. It’s the perfect complement to the restaurant’s extensive beer and wine list, representing a wide range of brews and vintages.

Scott’s signature entrees include the Black Pepper Bacon-Wrapped Pork Tenderloin and the Pan-Seared Sea Bass — white bean pistou, grilled artichoke, chorizo, roasted potatoes and lemon-poppy seed brown butter, topped by a stone crab wonton. There is also a choice of several fresh, sustainable seafood dishes and signature steaks, as well as several inventive side dishes like Pomegranate Molasses Brussels Sprouts and Sweet Potato Pork Belly Hash.

To celebrate the arrival of a Cohn restaurant to inland North County, Vintana brings some of the charm of its sister restaurants to the area. Like 333 Pacific, the bar serves 102 different vodkas. And Island Prime’s Mud Pie — coffee ice cream, Oreo cookie ganache and almond brittle — tops the dessert menu. Pair it with a Mexi-Coco Coffee — Patron Coconut, Kahlua, and coffee-pineapple whipped cream. Or for a lighter finish, try the blueberry and peach crisp with star anise-mascarpone ice cream.

Like its locale, Vintana is adventurous and edgy, ready to prove that the unconventional works.

How? It just does.