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Restaurants & Bars 3

Bacchus Secret Cellar in Irvine -- long review

Joy | Apr 25, 200603:09 PM

Bacchus Secret Cellar Wine Shoppe and Bar: They opened in December, and I just got around to going last weekend. As much as I make fun of the term shop-pee, I did like the place itself. A fairly small portion of the wine shop is divided off with a railing into a bar/lounge area. I'd guess that you have to get there early to snag one of the comfortable couches in the front window, but we were happy enough sitting on the bar stools. If you sit at the bar itself, you can chat with the bartenders, but we sat along the railing that separates the bar from the shop -- which is cute, like you're at a sidewalk cafe.

They have music on Fridays (later) and Sundays (earlier), and we went on a Sunday around 5:00, to have some wine before going to dinner. The small jazz trio was very pleasant to listen to, and the bar was just short of full (which doesn't take that many people at all). Enough people were talking that we had some privacy and felt a "buzz" of socializing, but it wasn't yet loud. I decided that I liked it just fine that way. The servers and the man working the wine shop were all very friendly, knowledgeable, and helpful.

The draw of Bacchus is that they have a fairly large selection of wines "on tap" -- 40 reds and 8 whites, plus sparkling wines, dessert wines, and about ten beers. You can order wine by the glass, by the half-glass, or by the "taste". Or, you can buy a taste of one or two wines to see what you like, then order a whole bottle for your group. They offer quite a few flights to help speed up the selection process. I started with a flight of three pinot noir wines, 2 oz each, for $16. That's the equivalent of about $10 per glass: not cheap, but not ridiculous either. As someone who has to buy wine by the glass most of the time, I was pleased that these wines were much better than what I normally pay $10 per glass for at restaurants. Very nice. My friend had a flight of sauvignon blancs, and she liked her selections too.

I have to admit, the whole shtick of "drink wine to get into the mood to buy it" totally worked on me. After this very pleasant experience of drinking and talking, I bought bottles of two of wines I had tasted on my way out. The two bottles I chose were in the $20-25 range. (I checked online later, and the prices of these bottles, at least, are comparable to other retailers.) If you prefer wines in higher price ranges, don't worry: you'll find plenty of those here too.

They had a tray with crackers, cheese, and cold meats in the bar. Nothing too fancy, but it was a nice touch. You could also order appetizers. I didn't look very closely at these, but I seem to remember that they were all cold plates (e.g., more expensive cheeses), and I don't think they have a kitchen there.

One thing to know: we learned by accident -- getting the wrong menu -- that the full menu of half-glasses and tastes is not available on Fridays and Saturdays. The bartender said they get too busy, so they only do the flights and by-the-glass. I don't think they warn you about that on their web site, so, be warned.

They also have wine tasting events on Thursday evenings and Saturday afternoons, which are described on their site. If you sign up to receive their email announcements, you find out about the events much further in advance.

After drinking a couple glasses of wine, we didn't want to get right back on the highway again. So we went to Thai Bamboo Bistro, in the same center, for dinner. The decor was nice, and the food was not bad, but not great either. The server didn't ask how spicy we wanted our food, and the default even for the green curry seems to be "very mild." Still, I'd give them another try. Another option is Lucca Cafe and Market, also in the same center. I'll try them next time.

Quail Hill Center, 6735 Quail Hill Pkwy, Irvine.


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