Temecula Food + Drink Worth Seeking

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Temecula Valley winemakers first planted grapes in 1968. SoCal's largest AVA now spans over 33,000 acres.

After visiting Temecula Valley, I noticed a common thread between the winemakers, brewers, restaurateurs, and local shop owners: a love and passion for their craft, a tremendous ability and desire to support their partners and the Temecula Valley, and an appreciation for fresh, local, and hand-crafted. It’s no wonder why Temecula Valley is a burgeoning food and drink hotspot. Only 60-90 minutes away from most Southern California cities, it’s really not a far drive for a fun weekend getaway. If you’re looking for a reason to visit Temecula Valley wine country, I’ve got nine ideas, listed in alphabetical order. Think about going for the Harvest Celebration Weekend, which is a great intro to the region.

Baily Winery

Winery Temecula

The tasting at Baily Estate Club is one for a true wine connoisseur: you can reserve a spot (only through reservation) for you and a few friends (max 12 people). What’s neat about the tasting here is that you get to do a vertical tasting ($30), where you’ll try wines (all red) with similar characteristics and bottling practices but in a succession of vintages. For example, I tried blends from 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008. So you really get to taste the intricacies of the wines and how the aging process affects them. Baily Vineyard & Winery is also one of Temecula’s oldest.

Black Market Brewing Company

Beer Temecula

BMBC is the oldest, currently operating brewery in Temecula. With its four years of operating, you can tell they’ve got it down and that they’ve tapped into their market. They are famous for their Rye IPA – a 2010 GABF Gold winner with a 7.5% ABV (a really hoppy beer with bright flavors). One of the more popular beers is the “dirty rye;” half Brown, half Rye IPA. Personally, my favorites are the Brown Ale (5.5% ABV) without the rye so I can clearly taste those chocolate, coffee, caramel, and toffee notes and the Anniversary beer that is tasty and easy to drink with its sweet pineapple flavor.

Bouquet at Ponte Vineyard Inn

Restaurant Temecula

Dinner at the Bouquet restaurant is held under large verandas where vines climb the poles (indoor seating supports colder times). There’s a rustic, Mediterranean feel to the décor and the ambiance; it’s as if you are in Italy. The menu keeps the same vibe by swaying Italian, just like Executive Chef Salvatore (Sal) Giuliano. I was able to try the watermelon salad with little bites of red beets, feta, and pecans all nestled in a bed of arugula. On a hot summer’s day, this salad was perfect; refreshing, interesting, and cooling. The paccari pasta shrimp was delicious and presented delicately, simply and tasty. But my favorite main was the filet mignon (a special on the menu), which was stuffed with crabmeat. How best to make a great meat dish better? Add more meat.

Side Note: The Cellar Lounge at Ponte is the only place out in Temecula wine country that is allowed to serve liquor (think specialty cocktails, beers on tap, and a nice wine list). It’s a really cool space to get cocktails, dimly lit with a swanky-yet-classy feel, and a set of sexy paintings hung on the wall depict attractive people in a smoky, jazzy joint.

E.A.T. (Extraordinary Artisan Table)

Brunch Temecula

E.A.T. is one of those places that you wish were in your neighborhood. It’s got a marketplace when you need to grab-and-go, a killer menu when you want to dine in, and an owner, Leah Di Bernardo, who ardently cares about the livelihood of her neighborhood, city, and region. Chef Di Bernardo is a member of the Slow Food Movement (and even represents her region stateside and abroad for Slow Food) and Local Artisan Food Movement (to keep small business owners alive and thriving); her love of fresh food fairly and locally farmed really shines at E.A.T. This passion may be genetic. Her daughter, Gabrielle “Gigi” Rose Di Bernardo, is the youngest speaker for TEDxTemecula, speaking about GMOs in school lunches, and her sister Deborah is the owner of Aroma House Coffee (the BEST cup of coffee I’ve ever tasted) – where she has a “farm-to-cup philosophy.” I felt good about dining at E.A.T. because I was supporting Leah and her cause, and I loved eating at E.A.T. because the food itself is ridiculously good (I don’t think that correlation is a coincidence). Let’s just say, I would drive the hour-and-a-half from LA to Temecula just to eat her ham sandwich.

Farm House Kitchen [CLOSED]

Lamb Temecula

At Temecula Creek Inn’s new restaurant, Chef Igor Krichmar, who previously worked as the Executive Sous Chef at the Montage Deer Valley, has come up with a stellar menu that makes his ingredients shine and that make his diners’ palates happy. I tried a lamb shank on a bed of Israeli couscous with fig jam and chorizo. The lamb is just perfectly cooked and the dish overall is a home run. The scallops are delicious (and gigantic) and the watermelon salad with prosciutto di Parma, baby heirloom tomatoes, ginger vinaigrette, aged balsamic, and a fantastic lavender and honey chevre goat cheese from Nikolau Family Farms, is a solid dish. That lavender goat cheese, especially when paired with the watermelon and prosciutto, is a magical combination.


Blog Comments

Check out Blackbird Tavern next time you are there. Located in the downtown area! Great cocktails, beer, and really good food.

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