This restaurant rules the northeast
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"Is this it?” asks the wife as my 10-year-old truck groans into the parking lot. A battalion of immaculately polished Lexuses salutes us. Or is it mockery?
A massive JumboTron flashes a series of images: pretty new car, genial serviceman fixing engine woes, pretty new car, succulent pork tenderloin with an epidermis of bacon.
The pork is why we’re here—Vintana Wine + Dine, the $2.5-million restaurant perched atop Lexus Escondido. It’s a collaboration between SD’s prolific Cohn Restaurant Group, chef-partner Deborah Scott, and Judy Jones-Cone. Cone owns the 326,000-square-foot “super dealership,” which also boasts a café, business center, golf simulator, and library, and has plans for a children’s museum.
To diners, a high-end restaurant at a car dealership seems “weird.” To the industry, it’s known as “nontraditional location”—a hot trend, especially among fast food (Subway made a killing doing it in everything from hospitals to department stores). Gourmets are no strangers to the concept, either. Food trucks and pop-ups are, after all, just restaurants in nontraditional locations.
In 1966, L.A.’s Horseless Carriage became the first dealership restaurant (a diner, still there). There are others across the U.S. but Vintana takes it to a new, upscale level. The idea may have come from Bistro 33, which opened in a Rocklin Mercedes dealership in 2008. While that Sacramento-area resto fell victim to the holy economic hell, Vintana should kill it for multiple reasons.
First, Escondido is a fine-dining vacuum, yet these hills have avocado money (and other kinds). Second, Vintana is architecturally stunning. Third, the 20,000-square-foot lanai—a semi-covered outdoor area with fire pits—rivals Stone Brewing Co. as North County’s most picturesque place to eat and drink. Fourth, the lanai is hosting concerts, weddings, quinceañeras, etc.—all of which need hot food. Finally, the food is largely enjoyable.
Coming in the front doors, the aroma is unmistakable: semi-analine leather seats and capitalism. I escort my wife past the showroom floor to the glass elevator. She gazes lovingly at a baby blue convertible. Her type of hunger requires financing.
Entering Vintana on the third floor, you feel it: Vegas. A recessed dome is painted with blue sky and clouds, à la Caesars Palace. There’s marble everywhere. The dining room is two-tiered, theater style, facing a wall of 17-foot windows. It’s like modern architecture afflicted with gigantism.