Editors’ note: Third & Vine closed on Nov. 10, 2019.
Third & Vine officially opened on Valentine’s Day in 2014 and sparked an instant lovefest. The funky little wine-and-cheese bar offered offbeat and affordable appellations, artisanal cheeses and small plates, and the bespoke touch of owners Jamie Mayne and Brian Rothbart, a fromager-sommelier duo who lived upstairs.
The slender, 45-seat space is still a popular hangout. But in January, 2018, Mayne and Rothbart sold it to Belleville builder Sid Raman. Raman, 59, had no restaurant experience beyond ordering from a menu. But the health-conscious pescatarian, who moved to New Jersey from India in 1984 to earn his master’s in engineering, says he thrives outside his comfort zone. “There’s an element of risk I enjoy,” he says. “I’m also a glutton for punishment.
Raman has had his share of punishment, like the departure last March of his CIA-trained executive chef and sommelier, Anthony LoPinto. During his one-year tenure, LoPinto’s inventive, vegetable-forward fare gained Third & Vine fresh and deserved buzz.
On recent visits, Third & Vine still bore the imprint of talents past. Once I was able to corner him, the house-trained fromager helped our table navigate the soft, firm, blue and stinky offerings on what is still largely Mayne’s cheese list. Each board arrived with inspired pairings, such as salted Nutella and champagne-vinegar-roasted portabello mushrooms. The wine list has become leaner and more pedestrian since Rothbart’s days, but still has some interesting offerings by-the-glass.
Elliot Crespo, 30, now heads the kitchen. A self-described “Puerto Rican and Polish kid from Hoboken,” Crespo worked under LoPinto at Tavern 5 in Pompton Plains in 2017 and joined his mentor as a line cook at Third & Vine in late 2018. Crespo has wisely kept some of the most popular dishes. This includes a dynamite chickpea and avocado mash served with warm pita triangles, a kind of Middle Eastern guacamole; and a French tarte flatbread, like a thin, crispy quiche Lorraine.
In this carb-phobic moment, I fully expected Crespo’s “spinach and carrot spaghetti” to involve spiralized veggies. Instead, I dove into a tidy nest of al dente green and orange pasta, lightly robed in an egg-yolk Parmigiano sauce. Adding interest: Juicy bursts of roasted heirloom cherry tomatoes and astonishingly satisfying bits of vegan sausage.
On my first visit, Crespo’s small and large plates (with vegan, paleo and vegetarian options) were smartly composed and deftly executed. At a subsequent meal, however, a generous small plate of sliced duck breast—rosy and luscious on a parsnip and pink peppercorn purée on my first visit—was tough and overdone. Shrimp a la plancha, on first visit plump and gorgeously seared, sat flaccid and gray on the return. I sought solace in a grilled, house-smoked cheddar-and-pear-butter sandwich, only to discover a wad of stone-cold cheese at its heart.
Forty-five minutes ticked by before our mains arrived (I took the edge off with a lip-smacking Belle of the Ball cocktail, made with mezcal, gin, habañero shrub and Campari). When food finally arrived, the New York strip, flavorful on my first visit, was cold, smothered in an over-reduced sauce and cooked to leather.
I reached for my (overcooked) wagyu truffle burger and one bite of its Styrofoam brioche bun told me it had made a trip to the microwave. Asked if this was possible, front-of-house manager Brian Corbett gave me a shrug and a…“maybe?” He took both the steak and the burger off our bill, explaining that the kitchen was overwhelmed. Odd, considering we were one of just two parties dining.
I returned a few weeks later. Again our meal was marred by chaotic pacing, poor execution and an understaffed floor. Crespo clearly has potential, but Third & Vine is far from polished.Click here to leave a comment
- Cuisine Type:American - Modern
- Price Range:Moderate
- Price Details:Appetizers, $15-$20; entrées, $20-$35; desserts, $8
- Ambience:Wood-tabled bistro, convivial bar
- Service:Overextended, underinformed
- Wine list:Full bar, smart cocktails; 20 wines by glass