WineSellar and Brasserie

9550 Waples St. (between Mira Mesa Boulevard and S, San Diego, United States

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Winesellar is a dining room above a retail wine shop, which has the advantage that diners can taken advantage of the contents of the wine shop when dining. The restaurant is tucked away in a quiet area, and the entrance is hidden away around the back of an unpromising looking office building. A string of framed awards for the restaurant’s wine list are hung on the staircase up to the dining room, which has generously spaced tables. The menu is French with American touches. There is a new chef, Kevin Smith, in the kitchen from spring 2010, David Gallardo having moved on to a new venture in Carlsbad called Paon.

Crusty slabs of white bread is served warm, bought in from the local San Tropez bakery; this has soft texture and was very pleasant (14/20). The wine list is of course a key feature of the experience, and has extensive choices from the USA as well as from around the world, at modest mark-up levels. Choices include Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay 2008 at $52 for a wine that will cost you around $42 to buy in the shops, Kistler Hudson Vineyard 200 at $125 for a wine that retails at around $83, a less kindly priced Ridge Monte Bello 2004 at $320 for a wine that costs $151, up to rare selections such as Maya 1997 at $700 for a wine that will set you back $644 in the shops.

There was a simple amuse-bouche of figs with Stilton, which as a combination was pleasant enough but suffered from rather dry figs (12/20). My sloppily served gazpacho ($13) had quite good tomato flavour, with pleasant avocado and made using good olive oil, nicely seasoned, with beurre noisette croutons as garnish (15/20).

Cervino Venison ($42) from New Zealand was cooked medium-rare, and served with pleasant organic Brussels sprouts and a black cherry reduction with a white bean ragout (14/20). A dish of scallops with polenta had large, quite sweet scallops had were cooked just a fraction longer than ideal, but were still very enjoyable flavoured with mint, basil and served with salsify and spring onion (14/20).

For dessert (which cost just $9), a classic creme brûlée was very good, with a crisp top and nicely made custard flavoured with vanilla beans from Tahiti (15/20). However a frozen chocolate dessert was distinctly grainy in texture (12/20). The bill for three came to $365 plus service, $435 in all inclusive of service, so £90 a head with plenty of nice wine.

The notes that follow are from April 2005.

In an unpromising location in a dark alley in the suburbs, this turns out to be a fine wine shop on the ground floor and a dining room upstairs. Table spacing is generous, and service is classy. Yellow fin tuna tartare was very good, the minced tuna enlivened by zest lemon and capers (14/20). Braised leek and potato tart was pleasantly cooked, served with home-smoked salmon and a well-balanced lemon and horseradish vinaigrette (15/20). Szechuan pepper and coriander cured pork loin was tender and served with lightly cooked baby bak choi, Asian (for which read shiitake) mushrooms and a curry and dry vermouth sauce, which tastes better than it sounds (15/20). Pan roasted Alaskan halibut was timed well, served with a garnish of Maine lobster, leeks, corn ginger and fennel, in a seafood-based tarragon sauce (15/20).

A bonus is a stunning wine list, which is not only vast in scope (over 2,000 entries!) but very kindly in mark-up. A fine Kistler 1995 wine we had this evening was USD 85 (little more than its retail price), and by comparison the identical wine at a different restaurant the following night was USD 280. This is by no means an exception, with wines in general marked up just 20% over retail price. The best food experience I have had in San Diego. The cooking can slip, as evidenced by a dried out piece of pork loin on my last visit, but this was the only slip, and it was dealt with well.

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