By Darren Delmore
It’s been a busy year selling Tablas Creek on the wholesale market. I’ve hit 12 states so far, many more than once, braved flight cancellations due to fog and dust storms, haggled with many a’ sold out rental car agency (cue the classic Seinfeld scene), and had one laptop and two license plates ripped off in the process. But the travel has had its rewards. Hopefully you're seeing more Tablas Creek in your necks of the woods than before, and based on my experiences I think the food and wine scenes around America get better every year. This year, I was struck by the number of amazing restaurants and wine bars I saw who aren't afraid of charting new and unusual paths. Though there are many more to mention (to be continued), here's a shortlist of places I've come across in my travels that I thought were doing particularly cool things with food and wine.
Given our own Rhone focus, it's fitting that we start with Sonoma's The Girl and the Fig, whose wine list, aside from a couple of sparkling wines, has always been exclusively devoted to Rhone varietals. Want a less-known grape? No other restaurant would try dedicating a page of their wine list to older domestic Counoise. Their wine buyer Brian Casey cleaned us out of the few cases of 2005 and 2006 that were left in our library. After I met with him in March to taste through the new releases, he made sure to ask me, for the second time, “Would you guys make us a sparkling Picpoul Blanc next year?” 110 W Spain St. Sonoma, CA. 95476
I first read about Foragers' City Table in New Yorker magazine. Equal parts grocery store, wine shop, and restaurant in Chelsea, they are big supporters of organically grown food and wine, and the vibe both times I've been in the place is infectious. You can see how the kitchen opens up to the grocery store in the photo above. Though the options are fresh and inventive, and the pricing a bit less than what you find in other acclaimed Manhattan restaurants, they may be best known for making the best deviled egg in the Big Apple, which is no small feat. 300 W. 22nd St. New York, NY. 10011
Chef Sean Brock's Charleston outpost of Husk Restaurant has a bar space next to the more formal dining area where wine director Matt Tunstall has arranged a by-the-glass list of wines based on the rocks they're grown in. I've never seen this before. There's a limestone section, ironstone, sandstone, and even volcanic. The food is renowned, and the night I landed in town I had the Husk Burger and a $14 glass of 2004 Cote-Rotie, which you don't see that often either. Look for the Patelin de Tablas Rouge which is currently on the "calcareous" list he put together for the fall. (Photo courtesy of Husk) 76 Queen St. Charleston, SC. 29401
A great wine bar I find myself returning to in Los Angeles is Bar Covell in Los Feliz. Owners Dustin Lancaster and Matthew Kaner just celebrated the 4th anniversary of this hangout on Hollywood Boulevard. They made waves in the area for being the first wine bar without a wine list. Even today if you ask for one you'll get politely denied. Don’t worry, the team knows what's up and will ask you what sort of mood you’re in, or what you feel like, then offer you tastes of a few options. When you taste something you like, that’s the glass they’ll pour you, with prices running anywhere from $8 to $15. A lot of the wines are small production and can border on the obscure, but there’s always a back story on why they have it on rotation. Covell added some great small bites along the way and even started doing themed nights like “Babes, Brews and Burgundy” and “Winemaker Wednesdays”, which Tablas Creek was a part of in July. (Above photo of TCV Cellarmaster Tyler Elwell and me, at the event, courtesy of Bar Covell) 4628 Hollywood Blvd. Los Angeles, CA. 90027
There is nothing ordinary about Cowboy Ciao in Scottsdale, Arizona. One look at owner Peter Kasperski's wine list will not only take you an hour to get through, but it may make your head spin. He was a fixture at the annual Hospice du Rhone event in Paso Robles and is a devout lover of Rhone varietals from here and the world over. I've eaten at Ciao twice with our Arizona distributor, ordering a couple dusty gems from a server who disappeared down a hatch with a walkie-talkie. There's a $10,000 bottle of 1917 Bordeaux on that list, in addition to Peter's own personal collection intermixed with the odd new release or two. Where else can you order a 2002 Tablas Creek Vermentino to match with a quesadilla, or choose from twelve different vintages of Chateau de Beaucastel Blanc to go with raw Buffalo? (Photo courtesy of Cowboy Ciao) 7133 East Stetson Drive, Scottsdale, AZ. 85251
Press Club in San Francisco is a large, lavish, underground space on Market Street that is home to a serious collection of wines. They host industry trade tastings and private parties throughout the year. It's a cool place to hang out on the later side of the evening and taste something on the fringe or famous. Wine director Mauro Cirilli is seen here using the Coravin to pour glasses of 2005 Chateau de Beaucastel Rouge. Though I've seen the Coravin (which uses a needle and gas to access wine without ever removing the cork form the bottle, keeping it fresh) being used at restaurants across the country in various capacities, Mauro went big and added five pages of magnums to his by-the-glass list. Now it doesn't have to be a special occasion to drink a glass or two out of a big bottle. He also has installed more wine taps than I've seen anywhere aside from Father's Office in Culver City, making this a real wine lover's dream lair. 20 Yerba Buena Ln. San Francisco, CA. 94103
Burgers are all the rage right now, but Chef Noah Blom at ARC in Costa Mesa may be getting the final nod with this one. Just look at it: a wood-fired animal trifecta of pig, duck and beef. It's the kind of burger that Noah says "you have to sort of mentally prepare yourself for." Noah does all of his own butchering in house, and everything is cooked in the fire. Since opening up in the OC Mix center off the 405 Freeway in Southern California in 2013, ARC has rapidly developed a rabid following, and Noah (to whom we are grateful for his help in a former life introducing Tablas Creek to key accounts in Orange County) has earned "Chef of the Year" honors from the Orange County Register. Befitting a chef with serious wine chops, there's not a boring wine on the glass list, managed by beverage director Koire Rogers, with $10, $16 and $20 options (oftentimes including our Grenache Blanc, Dianthus, and Mourvedre). 3321 Hyland Ave. Costa Mesa, CA. 92626
When I worked in Minnesota last May, lawns were still frost-scorched by what the reps were calling the never-ending winter of 2014. Good thing the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul have a vibrant food scene to keep spirits up. I was blown away by the quality of cuisine in the few restaurants I sought out, but even more so by the portion sizes and friendly service. I was told that 112 Eatery in downtown Minneapolis is the place where most of the city's chefs and servers go after work, and the inventive menu, including the deconstructed steak tartare pictured above, reflects this. A couple other places I loved in Minneapolis included Butcher and the Boar and The Bachelor Farmer.
I'd love to hear who we're missing. Comment below and let us know!