When you walk into Bacaro, you're literally surrounded by wine. Look up and you'll see countless bottles encased in a glass display in the ceiling; look ahead and you'll see dozens more standing in neat rows behind the bar. A list of international, small-production wines fills one wall, scrawled on a chalkboard like a PTA's happy-hour menu. Rounding out the constantly changing selection is house-made sangria and an equally impressive lineup of international craft beers.
Executive chef Lior Hillel, who honed his skills at New York's illustrious Jean-Georges, prepares a menu that vibes with the focus on wine. Italian-style cicchetti?small-plate servings similar to tapas?are served in hot and cold varieties, ranging from poached shrimp in a citrus-chili sauce to a lamb-stuffed eggplant topped with lemon-garlic emulsion. These inventive sauces are some of the best parts of each dish, as the restaurant bottles and sells them both onsite and at Whole Foods and other local retailers.
Each morning, brothers Mario and Salvatore Marino stroll through local farmers’ markets in search of the ripest produce, returning back to their restaurant just in time to pull fresh bread from the oven. The pair actually oversees three LA restaurants—La Bottega Marino, Il Grano, and Marino Ristorante—each of which highlights the traditions of the owners’ homeland, Napoli, with handmade pastas, pastries, pizzas, and panini sandwiches filled with seasonal ingredients. As noted on the LA Weekly web blog, La Bottega Marino’s menu foregoes Italian-American standards like caesar salad and fettuccini for more authentic specialties such as porchetta—an herb-rolled pork loin wrapped in pork belly and roasted with a light seasoning of salt, pepper, garlic, and fennel. In addition to perfecting housemade meals, the Marino brothers spend time building their wine list by collecting varietals from almost every Italian region, including the region whose excess CO2 yields bubbly prosecco.
Oenophiles flock to the Colorado Wine Company in Eagle Rock, looking to buy high-quality wines for under $25. They also come in to sip wine by the glass, with a rotating selection of pours between $5 and $12. Each day, Colorado Wine puts together four white and reds to taste inside the dark, woody space, where a long wall of wine bottles stands in as the primary focus of the room. Not to be outdone, beer lovers can also enjoy a rotating variety of six different beers on tap, often featuring Southern California breweries. Cheese plates are available for quick noshing, and on Friday nights from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. the shop offers reduced-price flights with complimentary cheese accompaniment for under $20. Regulars can also indulge in their Wine of the Month Club, which makes sitting inside the cozy space all the more enjoyable.
Benito Prezia founded Buon Gusto Ristorante because he wanted a place where families of any size could gather and enjoy great Italian food. The dining room can seat parties of up to 100 and the menu of Italian classics continues to keep up with the times. But it's what happens behind the scenes that really counts. Chefs select their herbs and vegetables from the restaurant's own garden, filling dishes with fresh-picked flavors. And to keep diners of every age happy, the menu offers a variety a dishes such as spaghetti and meatballs, brandy-soaked beef tenderloin, seafood paella, and vegetarian manicotti. The chefs even make a few gluten-free pastas, helping everyone in a family enjoy a meal at the same table, even when someone is going through a parachute-pants phase.
Like a massive loom, a circular wine rack curves through the dining room of Vinotéque on Melrose, its warps threaded with hundreds of bottles of vintages from around the world. To complement everything from Vermont chardonnays to Chilean cabernet sauvignons, executive chef Sheila R. Gomez serves up a full menu of tapas, cheeses, and decadent desserts, all prepared with seasonal, locally sourced ingredients. The café's oenophiles also helm weekly sampling sessions and lessons in the garden patio, as the ivy vines creeping up the lattice look on jealously, no one taking any interest in their leaf-flavored liqueur.
The Bodega Wine Bar provides wine lovers a casual setting to share plates and try new wines with friends without requiring a deep grapey understanding. Fluff out your cheeks for a cheese plate's offering of the day's selections paired with crackers, nuts, and quince paste ($13) while sipping a glass of Ferreira tawny porto ($9) or one of Bodega's Private Label wines—a Paso Robles red and a Santa Ynez white ($8). While gargling bored doe merlot ($9/glass), snack on a smoked-turkey panini made with tomato, arugula, pesto mayo, and goat cheese ($10). Various pizzas are also available ($11–$13), and beer, cold sake, and soju cocktails await those who don't like wine but want to keep their tongues from shriveling up into a tongue-raisin.