Wine Bars -- Are in a Class by Themselves
Sierra Lodestar 10/12/11

Foothill Flavors 812 words

Wine Bars in a Class by Themselves

By Antoinette May

Wine bars have a special feel, I think. You don’t go there for a quick high, you go to sip and savor. Restaurants that opt for wine bars as opposed to cocktail lounges are obviously food centered.

But that’s not all. Whether high end or casual, they invite a special intimacy.

Taste is a case in point. Dining at Plymouth’s sophisticated bistro is like belonging to a private club. After some five years there’s still a magical mystique about the amazing eatery.

Plymouth is a time-warp town, “town” possibly an over statement. To a casual visitor, Plymouth seems more like a street. And, with its simple frame exterior, nothing sets Taste apart from its century-old neighbors.

Surprise! Nothing prepares you for the interior, an Art Deco paradise. Think ochre-hued walls, golden light and dark wood furniture. The ambience somehow manages to be not only sleek and suave but also warm and friendly.

Is anyone surprised that Taste has been a Wine Spectator Award Recipient every year since 2008? Or that co-owner Tracey Berkner is a member of the Guild of Master Sommeliers?

2 Husband Mark is a master chef. Just try his grilled Colorado rack of lamb paired with a classic zinfandel. Tracey suggests Amador County’s terre d’oro. For an exciting new dish only recently added to the menu, wild Cojo salmon with apple fennel puree, the recommendation is a voignier, most particularly Cederville from El Dorado.

Now, okay, let’s admit it. Let’s get it off the table or better yet off the bar. I’ve written about Crusco’s before, actually

quite recently. But again let’s face it, how can I talk about wine bars and not mention one of the very best?

Crusco’s in Angels Camp is the Mother Lode of wine bars. It’s where the Godfather gang goes. Yes, that kind of Italian, a teaser to the imagination as well as the palate.

You think I’m laying it on? Go to Crusco’s and try their chianti with a meat dish or pasta. Celeste Lusher, the chef co-owner, suggests either Bellagio, an Italian red, or the local Scarlet Harlot from Lorraine Vinyard. Her white wine recommendation for fish or chicken is a pinot grigio such as the Italian Fontana Candida or Lavender Ridge’s cotes du Calaveras blanc

Sit back and savor. Listen to the Sinatra sound track and know that Frank would hang there too if only he could.

Two other favorite wine bars are located in Sonora restaurants owned and operated by Eric and Claudia Davis. Ten years ago the couple opened Dimondback with the goal of creating great food that reflects grounded sensibilities. Everything had to be good, but without pretension. That’s the way it was and the way it remains today. The same may be said for the new Davis restaurant, Standard Pour.


Dishes at both restaurants are top quality, fresh and full of surprises. Neither bistro takes itself too seriously nor do the customers. Ranchers, lawyers, and tourists sit elbow to elbow at the counter, sleeves rolled up, wine glasses at the ready, biting into half pound burgers made from locally raised grass-fed beef.

Anyone who has either at either Diamondback and Standard Pour can attest that the burgers are fantastic. But for me the menu’s highlight, the

signature dish defining both restaurants is the brie salad. Now, I know you’ve had brie salad on hundreds, maybe thousands of occasions. You’ve tasted the crumbled brie, the chopped walnuts, the cut up apple, and the mustard vinaigrette dressing.

Sure you have, but nothing prepares you for this salad. It’s not crumbled brie, it’s a wedge large enough for a cocktail party. The walnuts are big; the apple spiced and caramelized, the dressing spiked with hint of licorice.

But food is only part of the restaurants’ appeal. That’s where the lively wine bars come in. The Davis philosophy is that wine is food and wine is fun. In other words, each spins off the other.

“I dare you,” Erc says, “to try one of our juicy half pound burgers with a big boastful zinfandel like Black Sheep’s or our warm brie salad with Holly’s Hill voiognier.

“Claudia and I have found the development of a wine bar to be a joyous exercise. Sure we offer all the wines on our dining room lists, but in the wine bar, there is so much more: selections from lesser known producers, provocative food pairings, and tasting classes.

“We’re excited that our restaurants are considered wine centric and delighted by the range of people they bring in. All ages enjoy the casual,

4 unpretentious ambience, the warm and friendly vibes. They come back to us again and again.”

VITALS: Taste, 9402 Main St., Plymouth. Phone: 245-3463. Crusco’s Ristorante, 1240 South Main, Angels Camp. Phone: 736-1440. Diamondback, 93 South Washington St., Sonora. 532-6661. Standard Pour, 19040 Standard Rd., Sonora. Phone: 532-7687.


Diamondback’s bar is a drawing card.