Located in downtown Blaine, practically within sight of the Canadian border, The Vault Wine Bar has been on my radar for a while but hasn’t been easy to get to, especially since it’s only open four days a week, including special events.
The Vault has wine tastings on Wednesdays, trivia on Thursdays, occasional live music, a big wine-tasting dinner one Saturday each month in a large “studio” space, and other Saturdays feature a seasonal tasting menu, along with a small selection of dishes from the regular menu.
My first time at The Vault this past summer was for one of their monthly wine dinners, where I was frankly blown away by the inventiveness and execution of the food. The pairings were masterful and the technique shown by the kitchen staff was impressive.
When a dinner starts with carbonated melon served with prosciutto — that matches the amount of fizz in the accompanying sparkling rosé — you know someone in the kitchen is paying attention. It was followed by baba ghanoush and fresh naan, pulled pork tacos on freshly made tortillas, and delicate squid ink pasta with charred octopus and chorizo foam.
Despite the wide variety of cuisines, each dish worked beautifully with its paired wine. At $100 per person, these dinners are not cheap, but based on this experience I would go any time.
Still, I wanted to see what a “regular” night at The Vault was like, so I recently rounded up some extra diners and made the trek up to Blaine on a weeknight.
We already knew that The Vault is all about wine as the menu lists 500 bottles. Surprisingly, we learned that they don’t offer very many wines by the glass, and only a few beers on tap, plus a short classic cocktail list. I didn’t love their house martini, made with Rose City Gin, but their old-fashioned and whiskey sour were solid. They also have some non-alcoholic wines and one non-alcoholic beer.
The bistro menu is sorted into “petite,” “petite salade,” “salade” and “entrée.” We started with a dish from the “petite” menu, roasted sunchokes ($16), plus a bread platter ($9).
The sunchokes (also called Jerusalem artichokes) were nutty and soft, served with a rich béchamel sauce, gruyere cheese and several pieces of crispy prosciutto. We had the option of getting a fried egg on top and for some reason we didn’t take it, which was probably a mistake.
It was still delightful, and we mopped up the béchamel sauce with the good sourdough bread, which came with not quite enough thyme-infused brown butter, and a pungent raspberry balsamic vinegar.
For our next round, we ordered two more “petite” dishes, Dungeness crab cakes ($31) and local halibut with mushrooms, smoked béarnaise and fennel pollen ($28).
The crab came in two cakes, not large but very thick. Composed entirely of solid crab meat, the cakes were fried perfectly crispy and served with an aioli made with Old Bay seasoning. Alongside them was a slaw of slivered kohlrabi in a herbed dressing that I loved, although the dining companion I was sharing with wasn’t a fan.
The halibut was a moderate portion of nicely cooked, locally caught fish, crispy on top, in a generous pool of sauce. The assorted mushrooms on the side were fantastic, with a deep meaty flavor. While not the most Instagrammable dish — it was heavily beige — it was my favorite of the evening.
From the entrée menu, we had to try the wagyu smashburger ($24). Double-stacked on a wonderful fluffy bun, the patties were fat enough to make a very tall sandwich, which was dressed with malt onions, porter cheddar and — pure genius — Boursin cheese, with its distinctive salty, herby creaminess. We also made up for our earlier error by adding a fried egg for $3. A side salad rounded out the plate.
We also ordered the New York steak ($33), which was served pre-sliced. Although it was cooked to a perfect medium-rare, I didn’t find it especially flavorful. Still, it did come with delightfully pillowy, crisp potatoes, as well as broccolini, garlic puree and a very nice demi-glace.
We were excited about the eggnog éclair ($10) from the dessert menu but were quite disappointed when it arrived. Instead of a crispy pastry top, it was soggy and flat, like a refrigerated Danish, with a pool of spiced pastry cream in the middle. We much preferred the golden raspberry sorbet with a light balsamic drizzle ($6), which was vibrant and delicious and made a perfect palate cleanser at the end of the meal.
In spite of the occasional hiccup, the food at The Vault is extremely good, especially the tasting menus and wine dinners. If I lived in Blaine, I would probably come here all the time just to see what the kitchen comes up with next. Living an hour away, it’s still very much worth the trip.
The Vault Wine Bar is open from 4–9 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday, and 4–10 p.m. Saturday at 277 G St., Blaine. Info: thevaultwine.com.