Twenty-four wine bottles line the circumference of two stainless-steel cylinders, both of which add a futuristic flourish to the middle of the room. With the touch of a button, the machine dispenses a 1-ounce sample of any of the wines—red at room temperature, whites at 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Praised on Foodbeast, this self-serve tasting bar, called the Enomatic wine system, lets guests sample an array of wines before committing to a long-term relationship with a single—or several—bottles. This method is just one of several ways OC Wine Mart & Tasting Bar owner Julie Lim takes the intimidation out of wine buying.
At her boutique wine store, Julie fills the shelves with vintages from both well-known and under-the-radar vineyards, with some of her favorites including Silver Oak Cellars, Caymus Vineyards, and Cakebread Cellars. She and her team thrive on helping guests find the best bottle—whether they're hunting for wine, craft beer, or a fine liquor. Once guests feel confident in their selections, the staff can help them compile gift baskets for holiday parties or year-end performance reviews. Committed to green practices, the staff eschews foam packaging in favor of molded-pulp shippers, derived from 100% recycled materials. Such practices earned Julie a place on OC Metro's list of 20 Women to Watch, plus her boutique a place on Gayot's Top 10 Wine Bars in the United States.
The confectioners at Christopher Michael Chocolates challenge the palate's expectations with inventive flavor combinations, often balancing a sweet base with savory accents. The complex treats begin their lives as simple, preservative-free ingredients, including fair-trade Venezuelan cacao beans, organic dairy from local farms, and homegrown herbs and citrus fruits.
Christopher Michael's renowned creations, which stole hearts from their position in the 51st Grammy Awards's gift baskets in 2009, include the Sizzling Bacon bar, which marries smoky bacon with sweet milk chocolate, and the Aztec Spiced bar, sizzling with chilies and cinnamon. Handcrafted and painted truffles burst on tongues with traditional and nontraditional flavor infusions, including chipotle and honey, rosemary and grapefruit, and caramelized banana.
In addition to slinging premade candies, the team shares its expertise by hosting regular classes, including truffle-making sessions, where students learn to temper chocolate and lick ganache out of the bowl while the instructor isn't looking, as well as courses in caramel and ice-cream creation.
Tutti Frutti’s self-serve yogurt ($0.37 per ounce) represents a healthy and delectable alternative to heavy ice cream and deep-fried sticks of butter. Get your fruit fix with tart flavors such as pomegranate, acai berry, and the aromatic lychee, or opt for something on the creamy side. Cappuccino diehards will scramble to sample its yogurt counterpart, and pistachio’s distinctive flavor will bring back memories of that magical summer spent toiling on a Turkmenistan pistachio farm. Finally, adorn your edible artwork with a sprinkling of some of Tutti Frutti's delectable toppings. Health nuts can keep it ab-tastic with mango and blueberries, and more experimental eaters can transform their yogurt into a battlefield on which chocolate chips face off against their natural enemy—coconut.
Arnabal International produces the gourmet infused oils and vinegars of Gourmet Kitchen O&V and Les Lavendes and features cookies from Gloria’s Gourmet. Sprinkle salads, marinate meat, or fill a hot tub with a fragrant field of lavender vinegar (200 ml. for $9.99). For an aromatic cooking choice that's finely aged but not quite over the hill, order a balsamic vinegar, naturally sweet and aged for 20 years (200 ml. for $19.99). Blood-orange oil (200 ml. for $7.99) makes a sweet and tart topping for chicken salads, sautéed seameat, and numerous veggies that would otherwise become indistinguishable to the indifferent tongue. Gloria’s Gourmet Cookies are ideal as after-dinner treats while entertaining or delectable for munching solo in a darkened room. Savor a yellow packet of caramel lemon-drop bites ($2.60), or go decadent with choc-orange sandwich cookies stuffed with raspberry jam ($5.50).
The chefs at Queen's Bakery make all their dishes from scratch; they eschew preservatives, trans fats, hydrogenated oils, and artificial flavors in favor of ingredients such as pure cane sugar and wheat grown no more than 100 feet from a coronation crown. They bake their breads and sweets daily and brew a house tea blend each day. The staffers complement this brew with 16 other socially responsible teas—blacks, greens, herbals, and oolongs—harvested from Third World tea estates that provide housing and education for employees and their families.
At lunch, servers bring out European-inspired paninis and cold sandwiches with ingredients such as oven-roasted beef, blue cheese, and artichokes. They accompany many of these with housemade sauces such as shallot yogurt and lime-cilantro vinaigrette. For sweet conclusions, bakers sculpt treats such as cake pops, éclairs, and tiramisu, as well as colorful macarons. Many of these they decorate themselves, though patrons are welcome to bedeck desserts with their favorite colors or Al Pacino mugs during cupcake-, cake-, and cookie-decorating parties.
In 1965, Popular Mechanics ran a small classified ad for Brookstone, a new catalog company that packed its pages with functional products and detail-oriented descriptions. Brookstone quickly expanded to meet the high demand for its collection of “hard-to-find tools,” and opened the door to its first retail location in 1973. Today, Brookstone’s more than 300 nationwide retail locations allow customers to test-drive its ever-growing lineup of interesting products, which range from Bluetooth-enabled massage chairs to power adapters designed for international travelers and their electronic passports. Staying true to its roots as a catalog company, Brookstone houses an even larger selection of products, each waiting patiently to be shipped, on its website.