Happens all the time: I arrive at a restaurant only to discover that the menu is about to change, the old chef has just left, the wine list is in total flux … or all three, as happened recently at Rio de Vino.
Schedules and deadlines being what they are, plunging ahead is often the only option. And as Zachary Mitchell, Rio de Vino’s new executive chef (most recently of Purple Sage Ranch in Bandera, a resort/corporate retreat), was in place in the kitchen and had authored the day’s special sandwich, plunge I did. If the turkey with caramelized balsamic onions is any indication, perhaps the change should have happened sooner. Mushrooms and cheese were also added to the turkey and onions, and though this diminished the impact of the fowl, the blended ingredients were remarkably appealing — even bedded on an optional jalapeño focaccia. We will forgive, to a degree, the less-than-perky salad greens served alongside; it was the day after a long weekend. But the altogether unappealing orange dressing, mercifully served on the side, needs to be reconsidered, Zach. When you have the time.
But I hope the bleu-cheese burger remains on the lunch menu, even if it is ancien régime. The cheese is good and sharp, the barely sautéed onions contrast nicely, the meat (medium is default) has good flavor, and the whole-wheat bun just sturdy enough to contain the potential mess without seeming stodgy. Good chips, too. Other sandwiches include chicken breast in a couple of guises and a wine-marinated burger with cheddar.
The soup of the day, a so-called southwestern chicken, on the other hand, had no redeeming qualities. Cheesy, salty and spicy, it seemed like a sauce for a dreaded vegetable. I’d say cauliflower except I happen to like cauliflower. More work here, too, please. Sooner better than later.
Rio de Vino’s evening menu is much more ambitious — and more supportive of the restaurant’s Wine Bar & Café aspirations. (The space’s dark and quasi-clubby interior seems more amenable to evening dining as well.) We don’t know if items such as lamb-chop lollipops and marinated mussels topped with crabmeat will make Zach’s cut, but they are emblematic of the wine-friendly, though shotgun-style, dishes that have characterized the menu in the past. As the tucked-away appendage of an adjacent wine shop of the same name, the restaurant does require some signature items to establish its independent personality. Also up to you, Chef. — Ron Bechtol