by Anne Batty
On El Camino Real and Avenida Cabrillo in downtown San Clemente, resides the Wine Country restaurant called the Vine. Upon entering this eatery, one crosses the threshold into what feels like an old country winery, experiencing a décor that speaks of wine making and wine tasting, paired with the ambiance of fine dining.
In the lounge area, a high open-beamed ceiling creates feelings of space. Wood from both the inside and out of once used wine barrels enhance the fronts of the open-air cook station and
ounge bar. A glassed champagne riddling rack, multiple barrel-topped tables and antique bar chairs provide cocktail seating, while wine-themed art, courtesy of local artist John Petach, occupies space on white oak-paneled walls. Dangling wine bottle light fixtures complete this area, creating a soft, muted ambiance for wine sipping revelers.
In the more formal area of the restaurant, white linens and sparkling glassware adorn the dining tables. The bistro’s wine cellar hosts a large circular eating area for eight, providing a cozy space for private parties and special occasions. Earth toned fabrics and wall coverings speak of quiet elegance, and plein air vineyard artwork by local artist, Jeremy Miller, is highlighted there, as well as in the waiting area.
“I used olives, browns and wheats to represent the wine valleys, blended with burgundy to simulate the wines,” Owner/Chef Justin Monson remarked. “A casual elegance was the goal.”
Acquiring his chef training in New York at the Culinary Institute of America, then serving as an apprentice chef at the Ritz Carlton, Laguna Niguel; Saucier (lead cook) at Auberge du Soliel in Napa Valley; and head chef at French 75 in Laguna Beach; Monson always dreamed of opening a signature place of his own. To that end he has played a major role in all aspects of creating the Vine, most especially in the sole designing of the restaurant itself.
“This is something I have looked forward to for a very long time,” Justin revealed. “My wife, Dorine, and I searched and searched for just the right place. We knew San Clemente was it … the place to be.”
Both Monsons grew up in the Beach Cities area. They have two sons, Hayden nine and Beau six. Dorine’s mom attended San Clemente High School and Justin’s parents are locals in dwelling and in business. They are close with family and are making their business a family affair working side by side at the Vine, with Dorine acting as office manager and week-end hostess, and Justin creating and executing the daily evening menus.
In keeping with its name, this eatery offers a faire featuring cuisines and wines characterizing the vineyards and multi-cultural foods of the Mediterranean regions of Europe and the West Coast.
“My desire is to create recipes and cook foods the way grandmother would,” said Monson. “Like many restaurants in Europe, my menu is seasonal, changing four times yearly, expressing the fresh foods and wines of each new season.”
Daily specials at the bistro are posted on authentic chalkboards over the cook station and in the formal dining room. The presentation of the courses is second only to the delicious taste. Starter courses include exotic items like pumpkin ravioli and leg of duck confit, including flavorings like blood orange vinaigrette and brown butter-sage sauce. Entrees on the Fall menu offer various selections of steak, fish, pork, chicken and duck, accompanied by sides of roasted apple mashed potatoes, French lentils, herbed pommes frites, crème fraiche whipped polenta and wilted spinach, flavored with cider, cherry-pomegranate sauce and toasted almond butter. Wine pairing westcoast domestic, and old and New World wines from the major wine regions around the world, complete a multi-cultured dining experience.
At the wine-barreled hostess station guests are greeted like family, and the service is graceful and languid, giving patrons time to enjoy beverages and courses at a relaxed pace. As an added treat, Chef/Owner Monson, Dorine, the evening’s hostess and the waiters, take time out from their busy duties to stop by tables and chat with diners.
On special days like Thanksgiving, New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day, the Vine offers special price-fixed dinners and Monson advises reservations at least two weeks in advance. At various times during the year, the Vine presents price-fixed Winemaker Dinners featuring several wine-paired food courses, and on Wednesday evenings the restaurant hosts a weekly educational wine tasting dinner with a selection of four courses served during the evening.
A special Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau event is scheduled for November 17 this year. It will feature the youngest wine in the world; wine that has been bottled and drunk in the same year. Foods similar to those found at a French country picnic will be served. Reservations for all these events are required. b
To contact the Vine, or to make a reservation, call 361-2079