The sounds of conversation and laughter compete with the clinking of glasses in The Wine Artist’s lofty venue. The space sprawls over 2,500 square feet, with plenty of room to host private parties, bridal events, corporate events, and private cooking classes. Events at The Wine Artist feature unique wines, gourmet catering, and experiences such as wine bottling and team building activities.
From inside The Vintage Steakhouse, it would be easy to pretend that a passenger on the trains passing just outside the window is engrossed in a pristine early edition of The Sun Also Rises, smoke swirling off the Chesterfield perched absentmindedly between his fingers. Without much effort, you might conjure a woman in the bar car, gratefully sipping a Southside and sending up a wordless celebration of the reversal of Prohibition.
That’s because restaurant resides inside the historic Capistrano Depot, which, despite its 1894 build date, bears an unmistakably art-deco vibe evocative of the 1920s or ‘30s. A trio of arched windows is the focal point of the main dining room; when trains aren’t sliding past their decoratively gridded glass, diners can peek through bougainvillea and willow trees to the 200-year-old adobes planted behind them. Inside, knotted wood planks run across the 18-foot ceilings, a near match to the hardwood floors glistening beneath.
A smaller dining room sits in the adjoining Dining Car, a fully restored 1927 Pullman train car upholstered in warm reds and golds. Candlelit tables for two line each side of the car, under which couples’ intertwined feet rest softly upon the regally patterned carpet. The ambience is a bit more social in the Chef’s Alley room, an 1887 freight house with its own cocktail bar and more contemporary décor.
No matter where parties choose to dine, they’re presented with a thoughtful menu of hand-cut steaks and seafood accented with local, organic produce. The chef prepares all dishes over an open-flame mesquite grill, giving everything a juicy, so-that’s-what-fire-tastes-like flavor. A chef’s selection of veggies and the patron’s choice of potato accompany the entrees, which range from filet mignon in a cabernet demi-glace to prawns sautéed in a sauvignon-blanc sauce.
These rich sauces pair perfectly with the more than 150 varietals that populate the restaurant’s wine list. Though heavy on French and Californian selections, the temperature-controlled wine cellar also has a few Spanish, Australian, and Italian bottles tucked away. The cellar also stores a few cases of bubbly for the prix-fixe Sunday brunch’s bottomless champagne special, ensuring a festive follow-up to the smooth live jazz that plays every Friday and Saturday night.
Culinary school wasn’t enough of a learning experience for Hany Fadda. During the summers between his classical training at the California Culinary Academy, Hany traveled extensively throughout the Mediterranean and the Middle East. These experiences heavily influence the cuisine that he creates as the head chef of Tannins Restaurant and Wine Bar, although he also celebrates Orange County by featuring an extensive wine list that includes more than 40 different local wines by the glass.
These wines complement the contemporary bistro-style cuisine. Italian cuisine appears most prominently on the menus, and the chefs strive for authenticity by importing prosciutto and hand-making their own meatballs in-house. In addition to the assorted pasta dishes, the menus also feature a number of pizzas with toppings that include everything from sausage and roasted red peppers to roma tomatoes and sweet basil. Desserts such as traditional Sicilian cannoli or tiramisu provide a fitting coda to the casually refined meals.
The eatery’s dining room embraces a more classical elegance, with silver candelabras on several of the linen-draped tables. High ceilings and archways between rooms contribute to this vaguely regal setting, as do the thrones that surround each table.
A small flight of stairs leads guests down into a rustically decorated room, which evokes the ambiance of a subterranean wine cellar with its earthen arches, barrel-lined walls, and soft chandelier lighting. Designed by the artisans who created Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean, the dining room appeals to a similarly nostalgic whimsy. However, the cooks slightly modernize the menu's historic European roots by introducing unexpected ingredients.
The chefs elevate simple grilled-cheese sandwiches by slipping in braised short ribs, caramelized shallots, and horseradish cream alongside the gruyere and monterey jack cheeses, and a splash of cognac adds even more richness to the silken lobster bisque. Thai barbecue-glazed tofu and basmati rice also help to distinguish the menu by lending it a distinctly international flare.
Staying true to its name, The Cellar proudly features a 1,400-bottle wine list, which, according to the staff, helped to garner the restaurant Wine Spectator's exclusive Grand Award. The selection includes familiar staples, boutique producers, and rare vintages from virtually every major wine-producing region except the Marianas Trench.
Dr. Tony Beizaee and Dr. Mona Saati, a husband-and-wife team that graduated from Tufts University School of Dental Medicine, regularly attend continuing-education courses to stay ahead of industry trends and seek out the latest technology to ensure their patients are as comfortable as possible. Dr. Beizaee has extensive experience in installing dental implants, whereas Dr. Saati specializes in cosmetic and restorative dentistry. After patients unwind with complimentary chair massages and refreshments, the duo often begins dental procedures with the CompuDent anesthetic system instead of syringe injections. The disposable wand delivers computer-controlled doses of medication that result in quicker and more accurate numbing capabilities and an increased desire to break out in song and dance as Grease plays on a DVD player beside the chair.
Having grown up on a farm in central Canada, Marlowe Huber already knew about crop harvesting and soil when he began making wine in the early 1980s. He refined his skills still further by studying oenology in Vancouver before embarking on his first wine-business venture with his brother, Darren. Together they ran two wineries in British Columbia for 15 years before opening Laguna Canyon Winery in 2003.
Today, staffers pour out a diverse selection of Laguna Canyon wines at two tasting rooms in downtown Laguna Beach and at the winery itself. Marlowe and Darren also collaborated with marine artist Wyland to create his Wyland Cellars label, whose bottles he adorns with colorful undersea scenes. Grapes for these wines are sourced from low-yield growers in Napa and Sonoma valleys, who cultivate subtle flavors by hand-picking and home-schooling their fruits.