We had high hopes when we first visited the Wine Studio for a girl's night out.
But it quickly became evident there were too many visitors and not enough servers as we were had to wait for our beverages and food that was sub-par.
But the restaurant showed promise. And as we dined, Sharon Stewart, the owner, came over and explained the restaurant was ill-prepared for the onslaught of visitors that arrived for a mid-week special.
She apologized and asked us to give her and the restaurant another chance. A couple of months later, we paid another visit – and we're glad we did.
The Wine Studio is housed in a very cool circular building that used to be a dentist's office.
The charming South Tampa bistro and wine bar on Henderson Blvd. stands out as a destination for grown-ups.
Whether you're looking for a fabulous spot for date night, girl's night out, first dates or just an evening to unwind with friends and share a glass of wine and a dish – or two – this is a place you'll want to visit.
It is a warmly-lit space with lots of comfy sofas and chairs, a glossy wine bar and tables that invite you to linger.
We were seated next to a table of six ladies clinking glasses of wine and shrieking “Happy Birthday” to someone in their table, while a couple enjoyed a more intimate conversation in another corner of the room – it's that kind of place.
Servers write down your order on a chalkboard palette and the walls are lined with works from local artists that are for sale.
The studio offers a vino-compatible menu that includes hot and cold tapas (shareable plates) from cheese and fruit boards, marinated London broil slices and shrimp and crab spreads, to salads, gourmet-style pizzas and homemade soups. The menu isn't huge, but it offers enough variety for a satisfying meal.
A word of caution: If you are lactose intolerant, you're selection will be limited. Virtually every dish on the menu is made with some type of cheese.
When it comes to wine, there's something for everyone with some 50 attractively priced wines by the glass ($7 to $18) including a 2009 Raymond Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and a Marco Felluga 2011 Pinot Grigio; champagnes and sparkling wines; 14 brews and a beer menu, too.
We began with four appetizers; three of them were winners. The figs stuffed with Danish blue cheese were simple, but delicious, as was the beet salad with pine nuts and goat cheese. The signature cheese and fruit board was a favorite. It arrived with an array of fine cheeses (that often change) along with watermelon, apple and pineapple slices, capicola, prosciutto and salami, which was so artful in its presentation we almost didn't want to eat it. We savored and enjoyed every bite with our wine.
We could have done without the Cheddar spread with preserves. While we enjoyed the fruit preserves, the cheddar spread was a lumpy concoction with no discerning flavor.
We tried the traditional Gruyere fondue with crusty bread, apples, figs and broccoli for dipping. This dreamy mixture of Gruyere cheese, accented by white wine, garlic and lemon was gooey perfection. And while the menu says “for two,” it easily offers enough for three or four to share.
The gourmet pizzas also didn't disappoint. We enjoyed the Nova Salmon Pizza with Roma tomatoes, blue cheese, slivered red onion and capers; the Steak & Blue cheese pizza, with tomato, red onion, mozzarella and balsamic drizzle and a Fig & Brie pizza with a sweet espresso drizzle.
A word of advice on the pizza crust: On our first visit, the crusts arrived soggy. Since we all like a crispier crust, we asked our server to run the pizza through the oven a second time and it came out nearly perfect.
On several occasions throughout the evening, Stewart came to our table to check on our meals and I noticed that everyone seemed to get the same solicitous treatment.
If you have room for dessert, skip the Heavenly Chocolate Pate, which we found lumpy and bland, and go for the simple vanilla bean ice cream topped with Gran Marnier and a cinnamon apple walnut topping. Yum!