Since opening in 2003, The Tasting Room has morphed from a wine bar to a full-service restaurant with four locations—all while retaining its wine-bar charm and racking up numerous awards and accolades. Diners can select libations from a list that boasts more than 200 wines, pairing them with contemporary dishes whipped up by executive chef Jonathan LeBlanc. TTR offerings run the gamut from small plates of mini grilled sandwiches and classic bruschetta to entrees including creole-spiced quail and Jamaican jerk chicken breast, which diners can savor at windowside tables or on the plant-ensconced patio and garden area.
The eatery doesn't just sate hunger for eclectic classics and thirst for fermented grapes. It also hosts live music, meetings, and events such as 2011's Grapes vs. Grains, which pitted beer against wine in a liquid wrestling match. The owners have their hands in other culinary enterprises, too. There's the Houston Cellar Classic, for example, an annual celebration of food and wine. Also popular is MAX's Wine Dive, a destination for gourmet comfort food best defined by its slogan—"Fried chicken and champagne? ... Why the hell not?"
Executive Chef Jerry Toomey?s seasonal menus of duck, salmon, and steak dishes are each constructed with a complementary wine pairing in mind. Protein-packed entrees share plate space with such sides as gruyere scalloped potatoes, creamy polenta, and braised chard. The kitchen staff also festoons sourdough pizza crusts with meatballs, eggplant, and sun-dried tomato pesto. Xenophiles can enjoy more than 60 wines by the glass, 300 wines by the bottle, and one wine by the wheel barrel from locales that include California, Spain, and Germany.
Trinity Hall distinguishes itself as a traditional Irish pub, not a bar. They invite guests to hang out and read a book, eat shepherds’ pies, or chat with friends as they sip on one of 200+ beers. Soccer and rugby fans energize the crowd on game days, but once matches are over, the TVs turn right off.
After 22 years in the air force, Water 2 Wine–founder John McFadden established his first custom winery in San Antonio seven years ago. Already the business has spread as far as Milwaukee to the north and Denver to the west, bringing the country's vinophiles more than 100 wines, each of which are fermented on site and available for tastings every day. Those who want to get more involved in the crafting process may sign up to make their own wine and steep themselves in each step of the operation, from selecting the grape varieties, beginning the fermentation process, withstanding a wait of about 45 days, and finally christening their creation by smashing a tiny boat against the bottle. All custom-made wines are plastered with personalized labels made from one of Water 2 Wine’s templates or images that customers design from the ground up.
More than 325 bottles of international wine fill Zambrano Wine Cellar’s shelves and its climate-controlled wine cellar, arranged by chef, wine enthusiast, and owner Cef Zambrano. When not hobnobbing with celebrities such as Harrison Ford, Nolan Ryan, and Katie Couric, Zambrano coordinates a menu of bistro fare to harmonize with his library of wine selections, which received the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence in 2009. Zambrano presents updated takes on Mediterranean favorites, crafting small plates of escargot broiled in garlic butter and shallots, as well as four types of bruschetta topped with tomato, chicken, duck, or fillet tips. Diners can dive into shared nibbles with custom plates of international meats and cheeses or pizzas topped margherita-style or with signature spanish ham.
Zambrano’s prized glass wine cellar sits behind a smooth stone bar, inlaid with variegated amethyst that glows as it catches the light better than an outfielder with a magnifying glass. While perched at its high-backed leather banquettes, diners can sip from the 50-plus list of wines by the glass while gazing at a flat-screen TV in the corner or admiring the custom art on the dining room’s exposed-brick walls. In the front of the dining room, gauzy orange curtains frame sheets of sunlight that illuminate simple wooden tables, each adorned with a single flower that provides color and an amuse-bouche for hungrier guests. A sidewalk patio offers al fresco dining and bustling sights of Sundance Square.
Colorful art masterpieces brighten the walls of The Funky Door Bistro & Wine Room as diners enjoy a vast selection of wines by the glass and dip french-bread croutons into pots of rich cheese fondue. Other French-influenced entrees emerge from the kitchen in the form of seared shrimp wrapped in prosciutto, filet mignon au Povaire, and gourmet Kobe beef burgers served in berets. Guests can pair meals with their choice from 48 international wines stored in a self-serve Enomatics unit. This Italian-made technology stores a variety of bottles that can be dispensed in 1.5-, 3-, or 6-ounce pours at the perfect temperature through the use of a microchip card. The eatery's marble-topped bar stretches across an exposed-brick wall beneath sparkling glass light fixtures, which cast rays across vibrant blooms and linens tinted black and white like an old-timey TV broadcast.