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The Vine offers a taste of Italy

Located in a Grants Pass strip mall near an Albertsons and a McDonald's, The Vine Pasta & Steakhouse restaurant doesn't look promising at first glance.

But once inside, it's obvious the owners have taken pains to make patrons feel they've escaped their everyday lives and traveled to Italy. The buttery tan walls are decorated with wine bottles, art and tapestries, while tables are sprinkled throughout the restaurant's intimate rooms.

For an Italian-themed restaurant, the menu is surprisingly diverse.

The steak and chicken section includes The Vine's award-winning pepper-crusted beef with Rogue Creamery Oregonzola sauce ($21) and slow-cooked pot roast with sauce ($14). Seafood selections range from blackberry salmon with a spiced blackberry glaze to toasted coconut shrimp (market prices).

For those who want traditional American food, The Vine serves beef patties or chicken breasts on organic whole-wheat buns with a choice of french fries, sweet potato fries, quinoa and black beans or coleslaw. Vegetarians can choose the vegan veggie patty, made with quinoa and black beans.

My husband and I decided to pick from the 16 pasta possibilities, which included shrimp scampi, spaghetti and meatballs made with sausage, sausage lasagna, butternut squash ravioli, chicken carbonara and eggplant Parmesan.

I chose Mediterranean pasta ($14) while he picked fettuccine Alfredo ($14). We both added chicken for an additional $4 each. Steak can be added for $6.

With visions of leftovers in their heads, our kids chose the large Build-Your-Own-Pizza with cheese and pepperoni ($18). The menu advises customers to allow up to 25 minutes cooking time on pizzas.

Our attentive, gracious server quickly brought out two mixed green salads with julienned carrots — which were included with the pasta dishes — plus a bowl filled with freshly baked baguette slices and softened butter for everyone to share. The bread was perfectly yeasty and soft inside, with a slightly crispy crust.

Our server brought out a second bowl of bread after the first vanished into appreciative mouths.

The pizza did take about a half hour to arrive, as the menu cautioned. The pasta dishes arrived at the same time with perfectly cooked noodles.

The Mediterranean pasta was a light dish of slender noodles topped with sun dried tomatoes, garlic, basil, black and kalamata olives, red onion, green and red bell peppers, white wine, herbs and olive oil.

I would have preferred the vegetables to have had a more sauce-like consistency and probably should have ordered vegetable cacciatore ($11). That menu item had many of the same vegetables slow-cooked in a marinara sauce with grated Parmesan cheese.

The fettuccine Alfredo had chewy, thick noodles covered in a creamy, cheesy sauce. The portions of chicken on each pasta dish were not large, but the chicken was blackened and tasty.

The pizza featured an intensely flavorful sauce, as if it had been made with sundried tomatoes, topped by rich cheese and large pepperoni slices. The crust was thick, giving the pizza a deep-pan style.

My kids, who normally eat two slices of pizza each, were able to eat only one — especially after gobbling The Vine's perfect baguette.

At the conclusion of our meal, our server boxed our leftovers in biodegradable containers. When I hoisted the pizza box, it was surprisingly heavy, a testament to the thick slices inside.

The pasta and pizza remnants made hearty meals the next day.

For customers with dietary restrictions, The Vine has gone out of its way to accommodate those needs. Various menu options are labeled gluten free, vegetarian or free of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

The restaurant has an extensive selection of wine starting at $5 per glass. Many menu items include suggested wine pairings.

The Vine is at 1610 Allen Creek Road, Suite 111, off Highway 199, also known as Redwood Highway, in Grants Pass.

Call 541-479-8463 or see www.dineatthevine.com.

— Vickie Aldous

The Mediterranean pasta at The Vine is a light dish of slender noodles topped with sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, basil, black and kalamata olives, red onion, green and red bell peppers, white wine, herbs and olive oil. Photo by Vickie Aldous