Share Wine Lounge & Small Plates Bistro has potential, but execution and service need attention
Share Wine Lounge & Small Plates Bistro executive chef Chris Jones with the Tuscan Chop -- an oven-roasted pork chop with garlic cloves, rosemary, fingerling potatoes and market vegetables.
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Share Wine Lounge & Small Plates Bistro, the restaurant at the new Doubletree Hotel and Convention Center in Monroeville, is still working to expand its customer base beyond guests, according to executive chef Chris Jones.
The location is a challenge -- down a hallway, past the indoor pool, in a windowless area cordoned off by booths. You wouldn't swing by this restaurant to peruse the menu, or stumble upon it by accident. Going to Share, which opened in December takes some commitment.
1 1/2 stars = Good+
1/2 star = Promising
1 star = Good
1 star = Good
Doubletree Monroeville Convention Center
101 Mall Blvd.
- Hours: Monday-Friday, 6:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 7 a.m.-10 p.m.
- Basics: This casual fine dining restaurant decorated in bright colors offers an eclectic menu with a mix of bar snacks, comfort food and lighter, healthier options.
- Recommended dishes: Hummus among-us, spicy tuna tower, romaine and arugula Caesar, miso vegetable noodle bowl, crab cake burger, chicken saltimbocca.
- Prices: Appetizers, $3-$12; soups and salads, $5-$15; entrees, $13-$29.50; desserts, $5-$6.
- Beverages: Six white wines and seven red available by the glass and bottle. Glasses start at $7.50, bottles start at $28; mark-up ranges between 300 percent and 400 percent; eight signature cocktails, many made with flavored liqueurs, $9-$10; emphasis on domestic beers, with some microbrews on tap.
- Summary: Wheelchair accessible; credit cards accepted; reservations available; no BYOB.
- Noise level: Not able to determine.
The concept, which the restaurant shares with three others in the Doubletree chain, may not be immediately appealing to the Monroeville diners who lament the lack of local options. The mismatched pattern of booths and carpet, the generic pop wall art and the mix of chairs (some tomato red upholstery, some pale gold wood) may not be cookie cutter, but they seem corporate all the same.
While Mr. Jones has made an effort to add a personal touch to the menu, by adding dishes and specials of his own devising, the bulk of the menu is of corporate design.
The vaguely international inflections of Share's menu and its reliance on hearty, rich comfort fare are trademarks of modern hotel restaurants. Appetizers included bar snacks such as mildly spicy wings ($7) and quesadillas ($7-$8.50). There were Asian-style ribs ($9.50) that were tender, but not falling off the bone, and crunchy pork potstickers ($6.50). But there also were nominal Southern influences, such as crab cake with greens and Cajun remoulade sauce ($10.50) and bacon-wrapped shrimp brushed with barbecue sauce and served on cheese grits ($12).
More out of the ordinary were a number of lighter options, democratically sprinkled among the sliders and chips and dip. A large bowl of hummus was surrounded by wedges of grilled flatbread and neatly sliced zucchini, carrots, celery and green peppers ($5.50).
A prim tower of ahi tuna was layered with cucumber, drizzled with spicy mayo and ponzu (a citrusy soy sauce) and sprinkled with orange tobiko ($9).
The romaine and arugula Caesar, unlike so many Caesars, had just the right amount of dressing and parmesan, and the arugula added a wonderful spiciness to complement the crunch of the romaine (half, $6; full, $10).
A veggie quesadilla had lots of sauteed spinach and mushrooms, and just a thin layer of jack cheese ($7). Unfortunately, it came with a pico de gallo indistinguishable from chopped, under-ripe tomatoes and lackluster guacamole.
The miso vegetable noodle bowl, a huge bowl of thin rice noodles topped with snow peas, bok choy, spinach and mushrooms in a flavorful broth ($13), was a refreshing vegetarian option, but it would have benefited from the addition of some protein, such as tofu or shrimp.
Green tea smoked salmon was a divisive entree, eliciting descriptions such as medicinal and chemical from some at my table, and while I enjoyed its unusual flavor, it would have been better if the smokiness had been more restrained ($18).
Bar fare and comfort food remained visible themes on the entree menu as well. The crab cake burger, always a popular choice, was lightly pan-fried and served on a brioche bun that would have been even better if it had been toasted a bit more ($10.50). Fries were thin and crisp.
Chicken saltimbocca was given a slightly modern twist by leaving the chicken breast thick (often it's pounded thin). The prosciutto was positioned just so within the meat, which had remained impressively moist, and was served over a tasty pasta sauced with sage cream, mushrooms, sun dried tomatoes, spinach and toasted hazelnuts ($18).
Other dishes could be improved with more careful execution. A tiny portion of mussels, perhaps 10 in total, were arranged in a creamy sauce that had been over-salted to an inedible point. Topping the dish with thinly sliced raw leeks did not help the balance of flavors ($6).
The previously mentioned shrimp were overwhelmed by a combination of the salty bacon and their sticky-sweet sauce, and the cheesy grits were so undercooked that they practically crunched ($12).
The mismatch between the corporate concept and the reality of the restaurant can be frustrating. Despite what the "wine lounge" name might imply, there are only 13 bottles on its wine list. Don't expect tapas-style dining either. It's easy to share appetizers, but it would be hard to build a reasonable meal out of that portion of the menu, and entrees can be split no more and no less easily than at any other restaurant serving salmon and steak.
Some desserts are brought in, while Doubletree Classics are prepared in house. I've enjoyed a warm Doubletree chocolate chip cookie or two in the past, but making them into bread pudding is overkill. An ice cream cookie sandwich was a delicious treat, but dousing it in bananas foster was an unsuccessful mash-up of what should have been two distinct desserts.
The food, while not tremendous, is solid and reliable, and in a town with few upscale dining options, it is probably not what is holding the restaurant back from attracting a steadier flow of customers.
Service is the weakest aspect of the dining experience at Share, partly because of poor training and partly a consequence of a system in which servers are also responsible for delivering room service orders.
We were never greeted at the host stand. Twice, we had to wait for several minutes until a server finally noticed us.
One of the dishes that chef Jones seems most proud of is a pork chop he added to the menu. Unfortunately, our server never informed us there were any specials. Only after the entrees arrived did I hear another table order and realize we'd had other options.
When we ordered a bottle of wine, our server dispensed entirely with the traditional ceremony of checking the label and pouring a taste to try. Instead, she arrived with the bottle already open, the cork stuck back in the top. She uncorked it, poured it around, then stuck the cork back in the bottle and walked off. Entrees arrived before appetizers plates had been cleared. Utensils were carried off and never replaced. The service staff was so often entirely absent from the dining room that we found ourselves swiping forks from other pre-set tables.
Share Wine Lounge & Small Plates Bistro still needs work, but given some time and support, both from management and from local diners, it could still become a lively addition to the Monroeville restaurant scene.
First Published May 6, 2010 12:00 am