Review: Mike's Wine Dive
Rating: Three and a half forks out of four
Where: 4714 E. Douglas
Hours: 11 a.m. to midnight, kitchen open until 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., kitchen open until midnight Friday and Saturday.
Type of food: Sandwiches, salads, steaks, seafood and pasta
Alcohol: Full bar
Smoking: Not allowed
Reservations: Accepted Sundays through Thursdays only
My expectations weren't high when I visited Mike's Wine Dive for dinner on a recent busy, miserably hot Saturday night.
Mike's is a new restaurant and wine bar that's attracting a stylish crowd with its 45-page wine list, College Hill location and interesting menu.
I'd had one disappointing lunch at Mike's early on, and the reviews I was hearing from people who'd dined there were decidedly mixed.
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Maybe that's why I was so surprised by the off-the-charts deliciousness of the dishes I sampled that night (and at lunch the following week). With only one minor exception, the food was top-notch, and the service was just as good.
ON THE MENU: Mike's menu is the same at lunch and dinner — a mix of appetizers, unusually topped salads, sandwiches, and beef, seafood, chicken, pork and pasta dishes no one else in town is serving. Also impressive: a list of gimmicky but great desserts, made in-house.
DON'T-MISS DISHES: Two dishes we tried at Mike's were so good, we can't stop thinking about them and would bathe in them if it weren't so expensive and impractical.
The first was the wild boar ragu ($14), which I'd been advised in advance was one of Mike's best. Made with slow-roasted, tender wild boar that's been soaked in buttermilk to remove any gaminess, the dish features cavatappi pasta and a tomato ragu that's so deep and complex, it tastes like it's been bubbling for three days. (The kitchen apparently does allow it to rest in the refrigerator three days before serving it, adding to its complexity.) The ragu, which the menu accurately describes as robust, is spiked with perfectly al dente carrot rounds and served with two pieces of toasty, buttery garlic bread to help sop up every last drop.
Equally delicious was the lobster, shrimp and crab mac and cheese ($18), a surprisingly complex take on the comfort food classic. Also made with cavatappi, the dish was full of big chunks of shellfish swimming in a rich white wine sauce made with cheddar and Fontina cheeses.
The only less-than-stellar dish we sampled was the fish Rangoon ($14), made with sliced yellowfin tuna panfried and served atop a fruit-spiked risotto. We ordered the tuna rare, and although it arrived that way, the fish itself was bland and a little mealy. Combined with the accompanying risotto, it was tasty enough, though, and some fried plantains served on the side were delicious.
For dessert, we could not help but order the fireside s'mores ($6, as are all desserts) —a serving of marshmallows, chocolate squares and graham crackers arranged around an open hibachi flame. The dish was nothing complicated, but it filled the restaurant with the irresistible aroma of roasting marshmallows, and assembling them was the most fun we'd had in a restaurant in a while. Other desserts on the menu include a ginger creme brulee, a tequila flambe sorbet, and a vanilla bean mousse, served inside a chocolate bag made by Cocoa Dolce.
The culinary awesomeness continued into lunch the following Monday, when we sampled the slow-grilled steak sandwich ($12) made with thin-sliced prime rib and topped with caramelized onions and melted blue cheese on ciabatta.
About the wine list: Wine aficionados will no doubt love perusing the pages (and pages and pages). But it's a bit much for the average wine drinker, and I wished there had been more by-the-glass options.
AMBIENCE: The dining room is nicely decorated with funky art, though it could use even a little more decor to draw attention away from the somewhat oppressive black ceiling.
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers are about $9. Salads are $8 to $11. Sandwiches are $9 to $11. Entrees range from $12 for a Mediterranean chicken dish to $36 for a surf and turf, featuring a Black Angus filet served with jumbo shrimp.
SERVICE: The restaurant is amply staffed, and service was good.