Saturday afternoons at WineSellar means a six-wine flight and lunch special. Photo by Dhanraj Emanuel.
The WineSellar & Brasserie9550 Waples St., Suite 115Mira Mesa858-450-9557
The WineSellar & Brasserie has been winning well-known culinary awards since it opened in the late '80s, both for its wine selection and food, which is impressive, given its location in the backside of a Mira Mesa office park. But the out-of-the-way spot is for good reason: Though WineSellar is a busy wine shop and restaurant, it's also as a wine storage facility, so a lot of climate-controlled space is needed. To help you find your way, the WineSellar has posted some flags, visible from Mira Mesa Boulevard. Just follow the signs until you start seeing fancy cars in the parking lot.
For many years, the restaurant has dished up dependable takes on traditional French cooking, but eight months ago, chef Matt Smith came aboard. Despite his youth, Smith, who's 31, has managed to log time in local kitchens like Jsix and La Valencia and spent a year in Paris, attending classes at Le Cordon Bleu while working at the famed Taillevent, a two-Michelin-starred bastion of French cuisine that's more than a half-century old and is the site of one of my most memorable meals.
Smith also worked at the original Laurel Restaurant, which WineSellar's owners opened and ran before selling it to the space's present-day proprietors in 2005. His menu combines classical technique with seasonal sensibility—local produce and seafood are prominent, and he often stops at farmers markets on his way to the restaurant.
Depending on the dish, portion size varies. The small salads, including a sweet-savory plate of fennel and endive with Carlsbad strawberries, smoked feta and mint, leave you wishing there were just a few more bites for the $10 price tag, and a cup of farmers market English pea soup, its vibrant green slashed with a white streak of creme fraiche, comes in the shallow bottom of a very large bowl, the contents of which seemed unlikely to fill an actual one-cup measure. But the entrées can be pretty filling, especially the lunchtime version of duck confit that comes atop a generous helping of stewed white beans and Swiss chard. The big serving of beans came in handy when eating the duck leg, which was a bit salty on its own but tasty when mellowed by bites of the creamy beans.
I get a hankering for steak frites every so often, and WineSellar's version is satisfyingly successful in quelling the craving. They use a rich, flavorful and not commonly seen cut of beef called a hanger steak. The sliced meat is juicy and tender, topped by a well-made, buttery béarnaise sauce and served over wilted spinach. Alongside are finger-sized batons of potato, stacked like Lincoln logs. They have good flavor but could be a little crispier, though a sprinkle of fried shallots added the crunch that I was looking for.
Every Saturday afternoon, WineSellar pours a flight of six wines that all connect by a theme—place, origin or type of grape—for somewhere around $20. A recent lineup featured California wines, including a Cabernet from Gloriosa Vineyards and a few reds from Edwards Vineyard & Cellars, located in our region's newest official wine-grape-growing region, Ramona Valley. If you purchase the flight, you're eligible for the lunch deal, which offers an entrée for just $12.50 that would normally set you back $18. Chef Smith is on track to becoming a certified sommelier, so his training ensures the wine-friendliness of the food choices, which range from pan-roasted halibut to braised rabbit stew or the classic beef bourguignon.
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