Off the Vine

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The Laguna location of Wine Gallery offers more than just wine.

By Linda Domingo | Photos by Jody Tiongco

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IMG_9832Chris Olsen fell in love in college—with wine. The owner and co-founder of Wine Gallery Wine Bar & Kitchen in Laguna Beach and Wine Gallery in Corona del Mar attended UC Santa Barbara, where he first became infatuated with wine culture. From there, it turned into a lifelong affair.

He opened Wine Gallery in CdM with childhood friend Jeff Schroeder in 1999, which includes a retail space and tasting bar. In 2012, they opened the Laguna Beach location with other goals. “The Laguna location features a full kitchen in addition to a large selection of red and white wines,” Chris says. “It was just kind of a vision. There are no wine bars in Laguna. … The menu is pretty diverse, so there’s a little bit for everybody.” Chris has lived in Laguna for 11 years and says he has been waiting for the opportunity to open a wine bar and restaurant in town.

Larger than it appears from the street, Wine Gallery’s modern appointments and touch of hipness make it a welcoming watering hole for a diverse group of clientele; the after-work crowd finds a quiet spot to loosen ties, the date night crowd files in after 6:30, and those looking for a nightcap and good conversation can be found around the U-shaped, marble-top bar later in the evening.

A chalkboard displays the daily bruschetta, pizzas and bar snacks. Of course the wines take center stage, but a short and sweet craft beer selection will please beer loyalists venturing into the oenophiles’ playground. Those who are looking to indulge in Wine Gallery’s specialty, however, shouldn’t neglect to try the wines by Jeff and Chris’ labels, the Schroeder Family Syrah, and the Mile 216 Sierra Madre Pinot, respectively.

The small plates portion of the menu features a selection of unexpected showstoppers. In particular, the seared ahi, dusted with a house spice blend, on top of a bed of slaw is perfectly paired with citrus ponzu and peanut sauce, giving the dish an Asian tint. Although the Korean taco has been done plenty of times before, the tortillas of the short rib tacos overflow with beautifully tender short rib meat, with a nice spicy kick from Fresno chili.

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Also on the menu is a selection of pizzas—about half of which are vegetarian-friendly. The dough is made in-house daily and baked in a wood-fired oven. The sausage pizza is also made with an excellent fennel sausage that’s ground in-house, and a house-made mozzarella cheese. Caramelized fennel and onion provide an unexpected but pleasant sweetness.

The menu changes daily, so along with the long list of wines to try, there are plenty of reasons for repeat visits. LBM

Wine Gallery
1833 S. Coast Hwy., #110; 949-715-8744;

Hours: Tuesday – Thursday, 4:30 to 11 p.m., Friday – Sunday, 5 to 11 p.m.
Price: $10 to $28 (small to large plates)


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