The first thing you notice about Vino Primo is its beauty. Very unglitzy beauty, in perfect taste. Deep red and purple plush banquettes line the glowing neutral walls. But the best place to sit is in the high, high booths, with their deep red upholstery. The booths are large enough to seat four comfortably, and they are adorned with black-and-white, nicely framed photos of Ontario winemakers.
Then there are the stunning high cabinets crammed with bottles. Get the message? This is a restaurant that's all about wine.
That doesn't mean that the place ignores food, I hasten to say. The menu is tempting, and it is innovative. Case in point, our first course selection: "Sampling of appetizers chosen by chef de cuisine for two." Even at $28 Canadian and $14 for each additional person, it sure makes decisions easy.
So we forego our thoughts of temptations like Seared Palmex (duck) foie gras over fresh in-house-made potato brioche, fig and cardamom compote ($19) or Quebec chevre crouton in toasted macadamia panko crust, atop baby spinach, pomegranate cherry vinaigrette, caramelized onion, roasted red pepper ($12). In other words, the two of us went for the sampling deal.
And what did we get? Quail in Blueberry Sauce (all disjointed for finger-style eating, tender and delicious); the restaurant's own Smoked Duck Prosciutto atop apple slaw and well worth at least five trips over the Peace Bridge, even if you might have to provide a $50 Pass card; a couple of Lemon Grass Skewered Prawns with coconut sticky rice; and two Veal Medallions with a Merlot Demi Glace.
We could have ordered all these separately, but they cost less in the assortment and -- not so incidentally -- the combination was not a bad beginning for our meal.
Ontario Pork Tenderloin with a Banana Coconut Glaze, extra special Spiced Walnut Red Cabbage and Apple Roasted Chestnut Bread Pudding came in at $28 and was most enjoyable. Would anyone like to speculate here as to why Canadian pork is so much more appetizing than our own? (Hint: It just might have to do with fat content and their use of old-fashioned breeds.)
And then there was an excellent Organic Capon Breast all duded up with pine nuts, roasted red pepper, sun-dried tomato, asiago and smoky bacon sauce over fettucine ($22). Very nice, although it may be time to call a moratorium on sun-dried tomatoes. They turn up everywhere.
With both entrees, we drank glasses of Cabernet Franc from the Tawse Family Winery located in Vineland, Ont. We had never heard of this fairly new winery, but the Franc recommended by our server was really superb.
Other entree items included the Pan Roast Duck Breast with Bacon Lentil Confit ($28) and poached Atlantic lobster in a vanilla Cognac cream sauce with seasonal vegetables ($46).
Dessert selection was limited. Maybe because on this snowy weekday night, the place was far from crowded. We ordered a nice Tiramisu as well as a lavender-infused Creme Brulee. The latter was especially good. It sported a thick brittle crust and the lavender under-flavor was very discernible, giving the custard some gravitas.
3.5 stars (out of 4)
WHERE: St. Paul St., St. Catharines, Ont. (905-688-4479). As you might expect, the emphasis is on Canadian wine in this beautiful restaurant. The food is delicious, as well. Credit Cards: American Express, Master Card, Visa.
FAVORITE DISH: House Smoked Duck Prosciutto
NEEDS WORK: Food is of high quality.
PRICE RANGE: Entrees from $26 Canadian include vegetables.
SERVICE: Very good
NOISE LEVEL: Moderate
HOURS: Dinner, Tuesday through Saturday, 5 to 10 p.m.
HEALTHY CHOICES: Veal Medallions, Capon Breast, Poached Lobster.
PARKING:Behind the restaurant or in the nearby ramp.
KID APPEAL:It's for grownups.