Tuesday, March 16, 2010



Wanna be in a movie?    Or at least be on a movie "set?"

I loved the movie "Sideways."  I know, I know... many thought it was too clever by half, even pretentious - but I thought it was a hoot.  Even when the characters trashed merlot, I still loved it (and merlot).

A few years ago friends in Ojai took us on the "Sideways" tour where we found some lovely wineries and had lunch in the charming town of Los Olivos.  So, when we were invited up on Oscar Sunday to other friends' weekend home in Arroyo Grande to watch the show and stay for a 'sleep over' - we decided to stop for lunch again in Los Olivos since it was on the way "sideways" through the mountains.

The last time we were there the Wine Merchant Cafe where Paul Giamatti tasted and kvelled was closed for renovations, so that was where we wanted to lunch.   I wanted to kvell.

In front of the restaurant is a lovely vine-covered eating patio.  The inside is a large room that's a combination wine shop and cafe with a horseshoe bar in the middle.  Hanging above the 'host/hostess' area as you walk in is a huge '50's' gilt leaf/crystal chandelier... to the left are ceiling-to-floor shelves stocked with some of the great California wines... chardonnary from Cakebread Cellars, one of my favorites -  pinot from Byron, a favorite of Richard's... Also on the shelves were a few wines we really enjoy from the Carr Santa Ynez/Santa Barbara winery owned by other other friends' son, Ryan Carr... there were cabs from Turnbull and Caymus (can we say 'very yum')... and wines from Au Bon Climat, Foley, Opus and Chateau St. Jean, plus many, many others -- most of which you can also find on the Cafe's menu.  Not surprisingly, the wine menu is short of merlots.  Giamatti's character must have been very happy.

The restaurant is decorated with an eclectic flair - part Moroccan, part French bistro (French-Moroccan?).  Some of the walls are paneled w/ distressed, rusted metal siding above butter color painted 'wainscoting.'  The artwork is French 'bistro'-style prints of people drinking wine and Giclee prints on canvas.  Hanging between the tented white muslin above our heads was an array of different Moroccan-style chandeliers of dark metal and colored glass.  It was a little chilly, so we opted to eat inside.

The menu has something for everybody... starters, salads, sandwiches and burgers... a few dinner entrees and brick oven pizzas, even a 'The Bambini' Menu.

I was torn between having a chicken caesar (one of my favorite lunch fares)... or a grilled skirt steak salad made from natural angus beef w/ jacob's baby lettuce, red onion, radishes, beets and dressed in a horse-radish-herb vinaigrette... or maybe the 'Arugula and Apple' salad made w/ wild arugula, granny smith apples, pomegranate, marcona almonds, shallots and dressed in a red wine winaigrette.  What really made my mouth water, though, was when I saw the baked brie starter made w/ honey roasted hazelnuts in a cinnamon puff pastry and aged port syrup delivered to a neighboring table. Be still my heart.  But I was diet AND heart friendly and opted for the chicken caesar (I'm such a creature of habit). It was delicious. The dressing was just creamy and garlic-y enough and the grilled chicken was warm and moist.

Richard on the other hand was torn between the pulled lamb 'dip' sandwich w/ herbed caramelized onions and spinach on a brioche bun au jus, and, of course, a side of steak fries... or the Toscano pizza w/ mushrooms, ricotta, truffle oil, chives and four cheeses... or the Mykonos pizza w/ oven dried tomato, basil pesto, tapenade, feta, garlic and four cheeses.  He went for the lamb 'dip' and loved every morsel (well, except those bites that I insisted on having - delicious!).  And, the steak fries were perfect.  So many places serve them way too mushy.  These were crispy, crunchy on the outside and wonderfully mushy on the inside.

Because we still had about a 40 minute drive, we passed on having wine... but we didn't feel deprived - we knew we were going wine tasting in Arroyo Grande (see my blog from last week).  ;o)

So, if you ever find yourself driving 'sideways' through St. Ynez, California - take a moment to walk the quaint streets of Los Olivos and duck into the Wine Merchant Cafe for a bite to eat and drink.  The food is excellent, the ambience eye-catching, and you'll feel like you've been in a movie.

Wine Merchant Cafe
2879 Grand Avenue
Los Olivos, CA.
Phone: 805-688-7265


Richard said...

I'm ready for my close-up now, Mr. DeMille.

Lana said...

I love Los Olivos. Such a lovely town. I haven't been to the Wine Merchant, but I have been to Mattei's Tavern, an actual old stagecoach stop.

ilona saari said...

You must try the Wine Merchant Cafe, Lana -- also we love the Side Street Cafe just around the corner.