Art greets you from the moment you drive up to The Vine, 1375 St. Rt. KK, on the way to Tan Tara at the Lake of the Ozarks. Reproductions of paintings inside by local artists such as Bill Manion were made into large plastic signs on the exterior, and that’s fitting as the space began as an art gallery and has evolved into a full-fledged restaurant.
My first visit to The Vine Art Gallery & Wine Bar was to attend a Chef’s Tasting Table, a seven course wine and food pairing from Executive Chef Elizabeth Grave-Haliburton. The event served as a fundraiser for her daughter, Isla, 7, to attend the American US Miss Pageant, but it was also an opportunity to test new dishes to possibly add to the menu.
As some of the guests arrived, including several food representatives and their friends, I checked out the art gallery where the National Oil & Acrylic Painting Society’s Master and Signature artists special exhibition was on display, including works by 43 artists from 20 different states. The bar area featured a stand-out wine rack, built by Craig Sturdevant, who owns the The Vine, along with his wife, Ruthi, a professor of Mathematics and Interim Associate Provost at Lincoln University.
As Craig pointed out, the wine rack holds 99 bottles, so when fully stocked there’s literally 99 bottles of wine on the wall.
Nine years ago Craig, an archeologist and owner of Environmental Research Center and art lover, decided the Lake needed an art gallery. The Sturdevants of Jefferson City owned a lake house three miles down KK on the main channel of the lake, so they purchased a nearby property.
“Craig is a great cook and knows more about food than art and knew nothing about running an art gallery,” said Ruthi, who did grow up surrounded by art. Her mother, Pat Jones, spent 35 years as an art teacher in the Jefferson City Public School system, and was honored as the Missouri Art Educator of the Year by the national Art Education Association, in 1999 and the Missouri Retired Art Teacher of the Year in 1998.
Ruthi’s niece managed the operation for several years. By the time Grave-Haliburton was hired this past September, the wine bar had been added and then artisan pizzas.
“Elizabeth started as a server but we didn’t know about her cooking skills until the chef position became open. We thought she would just fill in for a little bit, but she was so good, we kept her there. We are so lucky to have her since she knows art as well as cuisine,” said Ruthi.
Born and raised in the Texas Hill Country, Grave-Haliburton grew up with a mother who owned a traditional Czech style bakery. Her grandmother also worked in a homestyle bakery in the tourist town of Fredericksburg, Texas.
“When my mother rolled out donuts for the day in the early morning hours, I often slept on the 50-pound flour sacks in the back of the bakery,” she said.
Her hiring as the executive chef, spearheaded a renovation of the kitchen and a “starting over” in terms of the menu. She’s helped develop the current menu of Curried Mussels, Chicken Jerusalem, Greek pizza with Kalamata olives, feta cheese, spinach, tomatoes and capocollo, an Italian pork cold cut, and a Seafood Pasta, with fresh pasta, scallops, bowtie pasta and seasonal veggies.
Grave-Haliburton has also been more selective in the wine choices, choosing those that aren’t easily found at the local grocery. Some of them were poured at the tasting event, which was a family affair. Isla, along with her older daughter, Isabelle, helped serve the courses, while her husband, Jay Grave, a professional tournament bass angler and Lutheran pastor, was on hand to wash dishes.
We assembled in the dining area with art behind and around us, including work by residents Rita and Joseph Orr and Manion, who use of a food and wine motif was appropriate for tonight’s gathering.
She also provided a ratings sheet for guests to rank each dish on creativity, taste and compatibility.
One of Sturdevant’s and my favorites was the third course, a flavorful pineapple crab cake, 4 oz. lobster tail with cooked greens topped with roasted beets and turnips. A Spanish wine, Oro de Castilla Verdezo, complimented with the taste of citrus. The lobster was served with a compound butter dipping sauce that added so much flavor.
“I expected the pineapple crab cakes and lobster would be a hit and I had a lot of compliments on the turnip and beet hash and that surprised me,” said Grave-Haliburton. “This dish could certainly make the menu at some point,” she said.
Others didn’t fare as well.
“I had the highest hopes for the edible orchids but I think the edible flower was a little off the mark with folks as they thought it was too pretty to eat,” she said. “Adding flowers to dishes is a growing trend but maybe not with our clientele.”
Grave-Haliburton is referring to a salad of fresh greens with a bright plum vinaigrette, goat cheese and toasted Texas pecans, which included a colorful, edible orchid. I looked forward to the fifth course of pan seared sea scallops atop buttery sage polenta and fresh plum Demi sauce. The scallops were tasty but the polenta didn’t have much flavor and ended up being gloppy. The duck confit, a French dish made with duck legs, came out a bit crisp and dry.
Other than Aaron Burke, her sous chef at the restaurant, who helped in the kitchen, Grave-Haliburton moved back and forth from the kitchen to the dining room, pouring wine and introducing each course. Probably too much for one person, but the inventive spirit of the night prevailed and everyone appreciated her willingness to experiment.
“The tuna tartare was received very well but the consensus was that it could have used more spice. I agreed but was afraid to make it too spicy,” she said.
The first course, the yellow fin tuna tartare sat atop Sriracha, a type of hot sauce made from chilis, laced cucumbers, and topped with crunchy sesame seeds was tasty and light. Mixed with Asian flavors and a small amount of Wasabi paste, it paired well with a Hook & Ladder Chardonnay.
The French Onion Merlot soup went over well, too. A Pietra Santa 2001 Merlot was used in the soup with fresh mozzarella and handmade croutons. This wine is from winemaker Alessio Carli of Italy who opened his Pietra Santa winery in Hollister, California, approximately 25 miles from Monterey.
The biggest raves were on the seventh course, Pain Perdu with vanilla bean ice cream. Pain Perdu, which means lost bread in France, is French toast to us. She used cream cheese in the ice cream to help make it easier to scoop and to slow the melting speed when served over the hot French toast. The dish was topped with a maple syrup glaze with fresh mint.
All in all, Grave-Haliburton was pleased with the event, although it turned out different than she envisioned.
“I thought it would be quieter with more talk about the foods, but the attendees seemed to enjoy visiting with one another and I appreciated their enthusiasm,” she said. “It was fun though to tell and show people how easy some of the dishes were to make.”
“I came away with some great ideas for the menu as well as ways to improve the event I look forward to doing it in the future,” she said. “I also look forward to having cooking classes where folks can learn how to cook for their friends. Like on Ratatouille, ‘Anyone Can Cook!’”
Anyone can at least “try” to cook and and with the right wine in the kitchen it can be even more entertaining and relaxing. For others, though, eating the food is much more pleasurable.
“It was fun to share the experience with some of our patrons and the feedback we received will be very important as we expand our menu,” said Ruthi. “I hope that we will host a tasting event every year!”
Mix all ingredients together well in mixer with batter paddle. Once mixed, scrape into the container with lid and start every savory dish with a teaspoon or more. Helps add flavor and color to every plate.