Where to Wine and Dine in the OC

Don't miss these 7 bars on your next trip

 


So, you’re traveling to Orange County, California for a meeting, training or a conference?

What can one say about a county that, in its truest form, is a suburban soccer mom community? On its face, that’s just fine. But this no ordinary suburban soccer mom community. It’s one that somehow earned a reputation as the ultra-glamorous “OC.”

While sipping a Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir at The Ritz-Carlton, you may not have a “Real Housewife” sighting, but you just might see Mickey Mouse on your way to Napa Rose at the Disneyland Resort. If this dashes your hopes, I apologize, but maybe you feel better about your visit. 

That the “OC” is made up of a diverse population—some rich, some not, some with big mouse ears and hands, some without—can be good or bad. It’s really up to you.

One thing is for sure, a day of marinating in conference room air and lunching over rubber chicken will have you yearning for a wine-and-dine experience. That’s just where the better part of Orange County comes in.

The Winery

Near John Wayne Airport and the Irvine business district.

Elegant, spacious and hip, The Winery offers aesthetics that help the restaurant live up to its name. Your subconscious mind will enjoy touches of taupe accented with dark wood trim and soft lighting. Smooth jazz and R&B recordings provide ambient sound.
 
A favorite spot for locals and travelers, The Winery caters to both adventurers who prefer new wines from South Africa, Australia and Argentina, and traditionalists who seek Old World varietals and terroirs from France, Italy and Spain.
 
As for cuisine, you can be as daring or safe as you wish with dishes designed by Chef Yvon Goetz. The chili lime rubbed Hawaiian Mahi Mahi is paradise on a plate, with roasted tropical fruit chutney, jasmine rice, roasted pistachio and lemongrass-Gewürztraminer butter. There are also several premium steaks.
 
Thanks to careful selection by Sommelier and Managing Partner William Lewis, the wine list is as internationally inspired as the cuisine. Speaking of Gewürztraminer, The Winery offers the German Becker Pinot 2009 as part of the “Sideways” flight. What fun!
 
There are other flight options: the Business Class offers higher end Cabernets or red blends, and Take Your First Flight lets you choose from three whites and three reds, making it economical and versatile.
 
The Winery
2647 Park Ave.
Tustin, CA 92782
714-258-7600
 

Onotria Wine Country Cuisine

Near John Wayne Airport and Costa Mesa business district

Onotria Wine Country Cuisine is a hidden gem near South Coast Plaza and the Orange County Performing Arts Center. A rustic interior of arched windows, heavy wooden chairs and a high ceiling of wood paneling pays homage to the “Land of the Vines,” or Southern Italy.
 
The dinner menu shows six categories of wine styles and suggested meal pairings. Chef Massimo Navarretta, who was raised in Campania where he farmed and made his own wine, stays true to his agricultural roots by using 100 percent natural, hormone-free, antibiotic-free ingredients. Choice seafood like octopus and tiger shrimp, flavorful veggies like fennel and arugula, and quality pastas, sauces and olive oils make up the standard Onotria cuisine.
 
My personal fave is the half-chicken, which is brick-pressed and seasoned with fresh lemon, garlic and honey mustard sauce. Delicious with a Montepulciano. After dinner, you can enjoy a Moscato and dessert.
 
The small and cozy bar area is as pleasing as the wide open dining area, featuring a cheese and wine room in the corner and shelves of olive oils, balsamic vinegars and sauces that Chef Massimo uses in his cooking and sells to patrons. The knowledgeable bartender can offer suggestions on how to make your palate happy. You also don’t have to worry about missing any important sporting events thanks to the flat screen TV above the bar.
 
Onotria Wine Country Cuisine
2831 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, CA 92626
714-641-5952

Napa Rose

Near the Anaheim Convention Center

Because it’s located inside Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa at the Disneyland Resort, you probably know right off the bat that dining at Napa Rose is no ordinary experience.
 
Unless it’s supposed to be small, Disney will do it big, so it should come as no surprise that the spacious, crescent-shaped restaurant comes complete with an exhibition kitchen in the center, elegant lighting fixtures, heavy drapes, solid furnishings, 22-foot vaulted ceilings and a 17,000-bottle cellar.
 
Like the hotel it inhabits, and the adjacent Disney’s California Adventure theme park, Napa Rose pays tribute to the Golden State. Obviously named for California’s first “wine country,” Napa Rose features mostly California varietals that pair famously with Chef Andrew Sutton’s creations, including the boneless braised lamb shank with roasted parsnips and Sonoma mushrooms, grilled “Maple Leaf Farms” duck, and polenta panzanella with Zinfandel jus.
 
The ample space includes private seating indoors and al fresco dining in the summer. Outside, Disney’s California Adventure lends surprisingly striking views thanks to its High Sierra-esque setting. There are more than 80 wines available by the glass and if you have questions about pairings, one of the many trained staff members are happy to answer them.
 
Napa Rose
1600 Disneyland Dr., Anaheim, CA 92802
714-781-3463

Two 40 South

Surrounding cities include Yorba Linda, Fullerton and La Habra

Located in downtown Brea, Two 40 South enjoys energetic surroundings that enable people to shop, eat and catch a movie. College students, hip suburbanites and nine-to-fivers help the area to create some of the liveliest happy hour experiences in the county.
 
If you’re staying nearby, Two 40 South is a choice selection. The bar is ideal for one-on-one time with friends, or you can enjoy the venue’s full sophistication in the main dining area. Minimal lighting makes the kitchen, located at the end of the main dining room, stand out. A bar that faces the action allows one watch the chefs at work.
 
Wines by the glass come from the 32-bottle self-serve wine dispensing system, as do the tasting samples. Ask your server for a tour of the vault where an Enomatic dispenser pours from bottles that are that are really, really expensive.
 
As for cuisine, artisan pizzas are a favorite and, like all of the dishes, contain local ingredients. The El Jefe pizza with grilled kurobuta bacon and Gruyere is scrumptious with the Morse Code Chardonnay 2009. Morse Code is a reasonably priced bottle on a wine menu so extensive, you need your glasses to read the small print. For dessert, the creamy and mildly sweet pistachio génoise goes perfectly with the 2009 Red Soles Sticky Paws.
 
Two 40 South
240 South Brea Blvd., Brea, CA 92821
714-912-1053
 

Sebastiani’s Italian Bistro Catering Co.

Near Fountain Valley, Westminster and Seal Beach

Just east of the Huntington Beach pier is Sebastiani’s Italian Bistro Catering Co. A small and charming restaurant in a strip mall, Sebastiani’s serves from two adjacent spaces. One is the main dining area, which captures romance with Italian art, intimate seating and decorative hints of vineyards. Next door is the wine bar, open in the evenings Wednesday through Sunday.
 
Dining in either space will help you to enjoy the best of what Sebastiani’s has to offer: delicious Italian cuisine and a small but diverse wine list. From the main menu you can choose your own pasta, sauce and meat. Without looking, I asked for spaghetti with a pink sauce and Italian sausage. It was creamy and spicy with the perfect balance of flavors.
 
The wine bar is charming and understated, displaying wine bottles on a rack by the door and behind the bar. There are quite a few tables, many of which are topped with corks under glass. The Chianti Classico, Castello D'Albola-Italy is a popular choice for tapas; a savory selection that includes mozzarella-stuffed meatballs, crab cakes Florentine and risotto fritters stuffed with ground beef. From the wine selection, create your own flight. I had fun with the Zinfandel Hullabaloo, Lodi Shiraz, Jester-McLaren Australia and Sauvignon Blanc NZone-New Zealand. A random selection, but hey, just go with it.
 
Sebastiani’s Italian Bistro Catering Co.
6078 Warner Blvd.
Huntington Beach, CA 92647
714-841-3619

 

Tannins Restaurant & Wine Bar

Near Mission Viejo and Laguna Niguel

Also located in a strip mall but near Mission San Juan Capistrano, Tannins Restaurant & Wine Bar offers an unpretentious setting that attracts locals from the surrounding neighborhoods.
 
Families, couples and groups make up the crowd, all of whom share one thing in common, a craving for great Italian comfort food and possibly wine if they’re of age to drink. At the entrance, you can enjoy a cozy and lively bar area with a flat-screen TV that shows sporting events and sometimes live music.
 
The bread basket arrives with garlic bread and a special spread for sourdough. These breads are so delicious, it’s a challenge to go easy on them before the meal. Flights that present international reds and whites pair well with seafood appetizers, antipasti and salads. The entrees include spaghetti and meatballs, chicken parm and penne and pesto, all of which are rich in flavor thanks to the great sauces. If you’re in the mood for a pizza, Tannins offers pies that are big favorites among the locals.
 
If you need help with pairings, ask your server. The staff is knowledgeable and appreciative of wines. You can also enjoy the full wine experience by dining in the spacious cellar. Enjoy gazing at an award-winning selection that includes more than 200 premium wines.
 
Tannins Restaurant & Wine Bar
27211 Ortega Hwy., Unit C, San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675
949-661-8466
 

ENO at The Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel

Near Corona del Mar, Laguna Beach and San Clemente

With a handful of ENO wine bars around the country, including at The Ritz-Carlton in Half Moon Bay, ENO in The Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel offers an experience that matches the luxury of the hotel it inhabits.
 
Dark tan wood serves as the basis for contemporary décor, which showcases 36 seats and high-top communal tables. In the center is a glass-enclosed wine vault that holds more than 700 bottles - a perfect setting for enjoying a flight. The Toast and Oak includes three 2 ½ oz glasses of Chardonnays. If you’re in the mood for Italian, order The Godfather, or savor France with The French Connection.
 
ENO prides itself in its trio: wine, cheese and chocolate. You won’t find entrees on the menu, but if you love charcuterie and cheeses, tasting at ENO is a must. The cheese plates include delicate portions of blue, hard, soft, goat, sheep, flavorful, European or Californian. The charcuterie features finely sliced duck prosciutto, hard salami and chorizo with spicy pickles and stuffed olives. Both dishes come with freshly baked bread.
 
Now for the chocolate. Request an attractive gourmet dessert that you can see through the window of the cheese room, and don’t feel guilty if you catch yourself staring at the desserts while you’re there.
 
Plan to exceed your per diem as prices for the flights alone range from $20 to $40. Having more than one will be tempting. The experience is worth every penny.
 
ENO at The Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel
One Ritz-Carlton Dr., Dana Point, CA 92629
949-240-2000


Pointers

 

Most of these venues have impressive cellars or vaults. Call in advance about taking tours.
 
All of these places have self-parking or valet.
 
Ask your hotel concierge about shuttle service to any of the restaurants.
 
If you’re driving, know your limits.
 
If you plan to take cabs, they can be expensive. Bring extra cash.
 
Cheers!
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Comments

  • Snooth User: ocozzie
    127922 5

    Thanks for featuring fine wine and dining in the OC. Most reviewers forget that there are 3 million people living in Orange County (I'm one of them) and almost none of us want to drive to LA for dinner.

    Feb 27, 2012 at 2:25 PM


  • Snooth User: JCBellomy
    936597 7

    You are lucky to have good choices and a scaled down geographical area in OC, more like living in Dallas which has some of the best restaurants in the US. L.A. has terrific choices, but grappling with the distances, travel time, and 10 million residents continues to be a real challenge!

    Feb 28, 2012 at 12:48 AM


  • Snooth User: ShoeJunkie
    1040684 17

    Thank you, Judy, for a most informative piece on these OC gems! Hope to catch up with you sometime soon. Ellen

    Mar 02, 2012 at 7:03 PM


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