I popped into Pizzeria Ortica last week with my young daughter and husband. My goal was to have some wine before attending a performance at Segerstrom Center for the Arts. I knew Pizzeria Ortica was a renowned restaurant experience with an Italian-centric wine list that made even the wine geeks giddy. However, I had a fourth grader in tow, a husband texting expletives about the traffic on the 405, and little moxie or time to get all wine nerdy. I made some off-hand comment to the hostess about needing to calm my frazzled mom-ness quickly with wine to which she replied, “lucky you – your bartender is also the wine guy.”
This is the moment things get tricky. Some people can’t wait to talk to the “wine guy” to rub elbows, ply away insider tips, and tout their wine knowledge. Others tense up and order the California Chardonnay on the menu out of familiarity and discomfort of the wine unknown. I didn’t have the wherewithal to choose either—which become my best decision of the night. Our “wine guy/bartender” happened to be Joel Anthony Caruso. Famed Orange County Sommelier Joel Caruso. Joel Caruso who has been quoted about wine in Travel & Leisure, Huffington Post, and Vivino. The guy the core O.C. wine industry peeps go to when they are seeking their own a great wine and food moment. So in my indecisiveness, I struck gold. I asked him what to drink and that kicked off the best 90 minutes of wine, food, learning, and laughter with my family that I’ve had in quite some time. Caruso not only didn’t chide me to for not wishing to strut any sense of wine knowledge, but he rewarded me with cool new wine experiences that I likely wouldn’t have chosen for myself. He made a kick-ass Shirley Temple for my daughter, he managed to get my husband out of his commuter rage and into a cold beer, and me happily wine relaxed and realizing how cool it was that our older daughter was performing at Segerstrom in the Honors Choir program. So here’s to Joel Caruso for making memories, making me want to learn even more about Italian wines, and a whole family chomping at the bit for our next return to Pizzeria Ortica.
Our Pizzeria Ortica food and wine highlights:
Glera, Prosecco – Drusian, Valdobbiadene, Veneto, Italy, NV
Lambrusco – Cleto Chiarli, “Pruno Nero,” Emilia-Romagna, Italy NV (in Joel’s words – a “porch pounder,” which I promptly executed)
Syrah – SAMsARA, Zotovich Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills, CA 2013
The meatballs from the Antipasti menu were amazing and completely hogged by my daughter. My husband and I shared the Salame Picante Pizze, but our daughter stole all of the wild mushrooms. We capped the evening with a canoli that nearly brought tears to my eyes.