As you know lately my wife and I have been on a food truck and diner kick. This was not always the case. I have shared in the past that I actually worked my way up to the title of chef when I was younger. The types of places I cooked at were typically a bit higher end. After I stopped cooking I used to still love to go to fancier places and my wife and I did it quite often. If was not unusual for us to drop a couple to a few hundred on a nice dinner just for the two of us. That was good and all but we were starting to get sick of the crappy service at all of these “fine” establishments. The food was “good” but started to be nothing special. It seemed that one out of ten meals was actually something we wanted to remember.
Lately it seems that almost everywhere we go the experience has been awesome. We went from one of ten good to now nine out of ten are incredible and the ninth is just “good”. Sometimes I feel people are sick of me saying good things about another establishment. I am afraid this post is more of the same. Last week was my wife’s birthday. Instead of taking her to the latest food truck or Triple D we thought it would be good to try something a little nicer. Turns out there is a place just around the corner we have been wanting to try.
At the District in Tustin is a place called The Winery. They have been there almost three years and are one of the few “new” places that have survived during the downturn. They have a $$$$ rating on Urbanspoon which as you know is very different than the usual $ and $$ level places we been visiting.
The Winery is an open layout restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating. They have a very large exhibition kitchen, good sized bar and as you would expect heavy wine list. Everything in the restaurant still feels new but to be honest my first impression was not great. It did seem a little loud and uncomfortable. Turns out it was my own anxiety. Guess I just wanted it to be special for my wife’s birthday. It was!
We requested some help on our wine selection. We knew we wanted to go with a Zinfandel. I expected them to suggest one of the three most expensive selections they had, but I was pleasantly surprised when they suggested a 2007 Opolo from Paso Robles which was right around $60. Turns out it was right on the money! The Opolo was a very nice bottle of wine and not expensive at all.
Next it was on to our appetizer, which was a half dozen Blue Point Oysters on the half shell. They came with two sauces, one was a cocktail sauce (we did not try it) and the second was what tasted like it had a little vinegar, some soy sauce and maybe some Vodka. It complimented the near perfect oysters. So far we were two for two.
Then on to our starters, Kim ordered the corn and baby scallop bisque. Wow, this was nice and light with big flavor. Turns out this bisque was on their menu when they first opened then it was replaced with something else. We were told that their customer really pushed hard for them to bring it back. I can taste why!
I ordered their Caesar salad with shaved Parmesan Reggiano and kalamata olive tapenade crostini. The presentation of the salad reminded me of when I was cooking. It is very close to how I use to do it. However this was the one thing that was just okay. The dressing was nothing special and it was drizzled on top of two small wedges of hearts of romaine. I could have used some more dressing but Kim likes to remind me that I do not need it. The crostini was very good so that helped to bring some spark to the salad.
Now for the main courses, first Kim ordered the Risotto special. This night it had Arugula and sun-dried tomato and was served with pheasant and a cabernet reduction. Risotto can be a very intimidating dish and I am always surprised by how many restaurants mess it up. The Winery however knocked it out of the park. The arborio rice was tender; the pheasant was cut into nice sized pieces. The cabernet reduction was the perfect compliment to balance out the creaminess. It was not overly rich and the arugula and sun-dried tomato flavors came shining through. This is the place to get a good Risotto if you have never had one.
I was looking forward to their Elk special but unfortunately they were out. So I settled for the Buffalo tenderloin wrapped in apple wood-smoked bacon special. It was served with whole grain spaetzle, green beans and a blackberry sauce. The tenderloin was super lean and tender. If you are a filet mignon lover then this is a perfect cut of meat for you. I wish I had remembered that. I am a rib-eye lover so this was a little too lean for me. However the spaetzle was very good and the blackberry sauce was a nice compliment. The dish was well executed so do not get the wrong impression.
I am sure you are wondering about the service. Our waitress Heather was very attentive and I mean that in a very good way. She was comfortable giving her opinion when we asked which is a big deal to me. I hate when people say, “Depends on what you like” when you ask them what they enjoy on the menu. Heather was top notch. Interesting enough the two general managers/partners JC and William are very active and spent a lot of time walking the floor and talking to the guests. This is dying art that was very appreciated. One thing we both found interesting was JC, William and Heather were all very interested in knowing you by name. It was not just us, it was everyone that would carry a conversation with them. They also made a point to remember your name as well. It felt personal and it was like they were truly appreciative of their patrons.
Kim and I are looking forward to visiting them soon. Maybe next time we can try one of their desserts or enjoy their happy hour.