Mushrooms II: Vincent's Del Stewart

Escondido sometimes suffers the Rodney Dangerfield can't get no respect syndrome among residents of the region who don’t live there or visit often...or ever. True, there is a very occasional mad-bomber house incident, and it does have a recent history of a city leadership tone-deaf concerning its image. Still, facets of civilization there are world class. And more than that, Escondido rises to the challenge of accommodating “world class” with unselfconscious grace.

Vincent’s Restaurant on Grand Avenue is one of those Escondido jewels.

 

Its history, which began in 1993, seems to have been an evolutionary one. Over the years it has become progressively more and more aligned with the talent, skill and even the personality of it’s chef, Vincent Grumel.

 

Part of the “locality” challenge is that locally grown food is seasonal, which means that its availability is constantly changing.

Vincent and his partners ran it under the name of Sirino’s until 2003, when he bought the building. He changed the name to Vincent’s, and remodeled it into a restaurant a bit more upscale than before. That change might have been a gamble, although Vincent’s wife Lisa doesn’t see it that way. “He had such a following. People came from all over North County: from the coast and from Fallbrook and Temecula.” The restaurant’s reputation was cemented before it even existed in its current form.

And the name change wasn’t a problem, either. Vincent had by then become so identified with the restaurant that people tended to call it “Vincent’s” instead of “Sirino’s” anyway. Thus it was just a nod to the will of the people to make it official. Most importantly, perhaps, the remodel of the business allowed Chef Vincent more freedom to create, and when you’re a culinary artist instead of a cook, that’s what you want to do.

Calling it a "French Restaurant" is an over-simplification, although its culinary foundation is certainly French. Vincent gained his basic culinary skills at Ecole Hoteliere d’Avignon, acquiring skills to match with his natural talent and creativity.

The details of the menu may change, but quality and freshness are the comforting constants.

Quality French cuisine contains an implicit requirement for freshness, and meeting this requirement solidly connects Vincent and his restaurant to locally grown ingredients. Part of the “locality” challenge is that locally grown food is seasonal, which means that its availability is constantly changing. At Vincent's, fruits and vegetables that accompany the main dishes on the menu will change seasonally, a situation that challenges the versatility of any chef, but one that good chefs relish.

Indeed, this is the basic pact with the mediocrity-devil that large chain restaurants make. The “dining experience” at corporate eateries must be the same not only between San Diego and Houston, but also between January and August. It’s comforting for their customers to find the same things on the menu, including side items, and customers pay for this comfort by accepting mediocrity and lack of freshness. A restaurant that gains the trust of its patrons, however, makes these constant changes into virtues. The details of the menu may change, but then quality and freshness are the comforting constants.

Besides the basic menu, Vincent’s also offers at least two daily special entrees, where in this eater’s opinion, the chef’s creativity shines. Looking a little closer at the process, though, you find that his culinary talent also has financial implications critical to the health of the business. “You have to look and see what you have in the morning, and make it work,” Vincent says. “If you don’t use what you have, it’s going to go in the trash.”

Perhaps counter-intuitively, no artist creates without limitations. In fact, results tempered by reality are more impressive as great chefs rise to that challenge. The inescapable fact that a restaurant is also a business not only does not have to compromise the art, but can actually improve it. On the subject of art, though, theories of where it comes from and what makes it better are all just guesses anyway, some not very educated ones. The proof at Vincent's is in the pudding..or more accurately in his signature bavarois au chocolat dessert.

Vincent’s also makes accommodations to those of use who may not be able to afford culinary perfection on a regular basis. Their trois et trois (three and three) menu is three course with three choices for each course, available Tuesday through Thursday, for $30 per guest. Each week, the menu changes (you can find the menu here: http://vincentsongrand.com/category/events/trois-trois/). It’s kind of an early bird special, as guests must be seated by 6:00 PM, but few early birds eat as well.

Lisa and Vincent live in Escondido as well work there. “I love Grand Avenue,” says Lisa, “it has a great deal of potential.” Part of that unmet potential, she explains, is that the other businesses aren’t taking advantage of the fact that Vincent’s is a destination. In other words, even if every other business is closed for the night, people still come to Vincent’s. Indeed, on a Thursday night when the restaurant was pretty well populated, most of the rest of Grand Avenue was closed up tight save for the other restaurants. The potential that Lisa sees is a more vibrant area that reflects and meshes with the joie de vivre patrons experience dining at Vincent’s. If she and Vincent can help do for Grand Avenue what they’ve done for their restaurants, it’s just a matter of time.

Vincent's On Grand 
113 West Grande Avenue
Escondido, CA 92025
760-745-3835