You lucky ducks in South County. You’ve got loads of great wine bars: Amazing Grapes in Rancho, Bacchus in Irvine, The Reserve in Ladera Ranch—if you missed my blog on owner Ed Manetta’s classes at UCI extension here’s a link. Was just in SoCo on a reconnaissance mission and found a couple more watering holes for winos. Check out The Cellar in San Clemente. It’s got great flights and wine by the glass. I found a French chard that I really liked. The cheese case is amazing and the Spanish appetizer tray had cheeses, chorizo, stuffed pappadews, Serrano ham, Marcona almonds, and accoutrement that we fought over including jam, quince paste, and pressed figs. The décor is industrial chic with concrete table tops. The restrooms are really beautiful with surprising lighting.
Then we had dinner at Pizza e Vino where you can get some over-the-top Italian wines by the glass, like a delicious Barolo for $30. The pizza, which won Orange Coast’s Best Pizza prize was good, but I wished I hadn’t been so full when I stopped into Crush in Lake Forest, above. Wonderful bar and flights. I discovered Emmolo, a label born of divorce. Vintner Cheryl Emmolo had been married to the winemaker at Caymus. Her family has owned land in Rutherford for over 70 years. Taste her wine and you’ll see by its richness and voluptuousness that the lady really knows what she’s doing. Incredible price at $30.
It was delicious with our desserts, a chocolate ganache cake and panna cotta gelato covered with fresh berries. After the dinner rush, chef Albert Constandine, brought around samples of his leg of lamb—probably the best I’ve ever had in Orange County: so tender, perfectly seasoned with a drizzle of olive oil. They guy is Greek so why were we surprised? But he’s got other international goodies on the menu like escargot. Next time I’m going back hungry.—Anne Valdespino