The Vineyard Restaurant & Bar
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The Vineyard Restaurant & Bar
Photos and story by Amy Guerra
The Vineyard Restaurant & Bar is an authentic Valley legend.
Located just west of Highway 99 in Madera, the restaurant has been named one of the Central Valley’s best restaurants by Wine Spectator magazine and AAA’s VIA Magazine and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the California Restaurant Association.
During the 37 years that The Vineyard has been open, the Mariscotti family has mastered a sense of casual elegance. The large windows of the restaurant are framed by decorative grapes hanging from a trellis and dotted with large, bright lights that emphasize a rustic interior with lots of wood, rich carpet and velvet drapes. The bar resembles an estate library with its large tables and high wingback chairs.
The restaurant regularly attracts a business crowd at lunch and a wider audience at dinner. When we arrive for dinner, the banquet area in the back is teeming with people ordering local wine and celebrating birthdays and special events. The scent of hot, fresh bread hits us at the door and follows us to the table where we’re served The Vineyard ‘s signature creamy olive tapenade. Owner Chris Mariscotti greets us and every other customer that night. He brings us a decadent combination: a plate of tender, ripe figs wrapped in crispy thick bacon sweet reduction.
My 11-year-old son is with me, and it doesn’t take him but a second to spot the sriracha-maple glazed fried chicken with garlic mashed potatoes and local vegetables. Like everything on The Vineyard’s menu, it’s carefully chosen and subtly sophisticated, with all the genuineness of classically prepared comfort food. When it arrives it doesn’t disappoint: perfectly crisp skin and a complex sweet and spicy glaze. It’s literally a triad of foodie perfection – salty, sweet and spicy.
At Mariscotti’s urging, I try the Zinfandel-braised lamb shank. The slow-cooked lamb shank is covered in a savory, thick and delicious Zinfandel-based tomato sauce. Other options on the menu are similarly intriguing: bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin stuffed with figs and paired with a raspberry port reduction, accompanied by blue cheese mashed potatoes and fried leeks; a fresh grilled Alaskan halibut with watermelon tomato chutney; and a roasted pork chop with Asian pear and tomato soy glaze.
Mariscotti invited us to see the kitchen, an immaculate restaurant “war room” where we saw Chef Jason Milam and his team at their best – baking fresh bread, preparing the popular bacon-wrapped figs and creating magnificent entrée after entrée.
When we got back to the table, Mariscotti insisted that we try one of the oldest items on the menu: the Baked Apple. It is a buttery baked apple wrapped in pastry crust, filled with caramelized raisins and served with sweet whipped cream, ice cream and caramel.
As I watched my son devour the last few bites of a memorable dinner, I had no doubt we’d be back. Maybe for a birthday, or on the way to the coast, or for no reason at all. Once you find a restaurant like this, you can’t stay away. The Mariscotti family changes the menu seasonally, usually around four times a year to highlight locally available food. While it offers a variety of wine, roughly half of what’s available is local, including a collection of local dessert wines.
The Vineyard Restaurant & Bar is located at 605 S. I St. in Madera. The restaurant hosts special events and can be reached by phone at (559) 674-0923 or online at vineyardrestaurant.com/.
Amy Guerra is a criminal defense attorney practicing in Fresno. She has written for several publications throughout California and enjoys writing about the law, food, travel and all things Fresno.