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Taste of Wine: Choose a quiet, romantic restaurant for Valentine’s Day

TASTE OF WINE was invited recently to a mid-county San Diego wine and food contemporary formatted restaurant, heavy on the trendy Asian-Fusion menu. I knew as soon as I walked in that I had seen this layout before and it was disappointing.

Too often, newer restaurants put space together to produce a high energy, high decibel atmosphere. I’ve been around many a restaurant with nice wine lists, but with so much noise it curdles a well-balanced Cab. Talking to the managers of these new format restaurants, you get the feeling that most of them want a big bar turnout, with dining as an afterthought.

Now, before I give you the telltale cautionary signs, this trend is not even close to half the restaurants, but what concerns me is that most of the new breed of hot new restaurants with “celebrity” chefs are turning to this high decibel format.

If I’m going to dine at a high-end new format, I’m most likely going to drop more than $100 on a dinner for two with a fine wine bottle. With some of these new formats, inexpensive bar food and a “happy hour” that at times go all night, the stand up crowd gets louder and louder and spends less and less.

I checked with the Wall Street Journal for stories on trendy restaurants that design dining rooms for maximum noise level, and here’s what they report to avoid:

Avoid big square rooms with hardwood floors, no room sectioning that dampens the noise coming from the bar, and high ceilings with the beams exposed.

Next look at the walls. Many are a wall of windows with no tapestry or even paintings or graphics to absorb sound.

There’s a next level of noise in operation. No covering on the tables, open kitchens with pans rattling, and rock music that is cranked up to where you have to scream out your order.

Dinner talk gets louder in competition with other diners because the tables are placed side by side by side. Do you really want to listen to the next diner’s divorce proceedings?

Ranch & Coast Magazine is a San Diego Coastal lifestyle magazine that profiles wine and food frequently. They’ve just come out with their “Three favorite restaurant go-to’s.”

All are comfortable, high-quality restaurants with no chance of indigestion due to high decibel noise distractions. They are: Pamplemousse Grille Del Mar, Crush Solana Beach and The Grill at Torrey Pines. All have extensive wine lists.


Enjoy a choice Valentine’s dinner in Temecula Wine Country

The ambience and romance of a vineyard restaurant dinner date in Temecula wine country is a smart choice for Valentine’s Day. There are 10 such restaurants to choose from. Here are some:

Avensole Winery is planning a Valentine’s Couples Dinner Feb. 10 to Feb. 14 with a special prix fixe menu and live entertainment.  Call for details and pricing at (951) 252-2003 ext. 305.

Europa Village presents an intimate candlelight five-course gourmet dinner paired with its fine wines. Call for reservation and pricing at (951) 695-7175.

Pinnacle Restaurant at Falkner Winery offers a four-course dinner for Valentine’s Day with pairings of Falkner’s best wines. It includes live entertainment.  Call Falkner at (951) 676-8231 ext. 4 for reservations and pricing.

A five-course wine paired Valentine’s dinner is being planned at Monte De Oro Winery. It highlights live entertainment and a special gift for each guest.  Fun starts at 7 p.m. Details and ticket pricing at or call (951) 491-6551.


Wine Bytes

The ultimate Valentine’s trio: Wine, Cheese and Chocolate are the subjects of an event at Meritage Wine Market in Encinitas, Feb. 11 from 1 to 3 p.m. Cost is $79.  Call (858) 442-2749 for a place.

Pala Casino Spa and Resort on Highway 76 in Pala offers Valentine’s Day menus at their three top venues: Choices Buffet, the Oak Room and Cave. Choices will be serving from 4 to 9 p.m. with eight serving stations. Each restaurant is planning a bonanza of fine dining. Call (760) 510-2299 for reservations and details.

Bistro West in Carlsbad has a J. Lohr wine dinner Feb. 17 at 6 p.m. for $80. A five-course dinner includes Grilled Veal Chop with potato Cannelloni as the main entrée matched with a 2013 Paso Robles Cabernet. Call (760) 930-8008.

Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator.  He is one of the leading wine commentators on the web. View his columns at and reach him at [email protected].  Follow him on Facebook.