"Stop and smell the rosé,” says the sidewalk sign.
Huh. Are we seeing the start of a wine pushback, after all these glorious beer years?
This is happening quite a ways up Kettner, Little Italy’s “other street,” which is turning into something really interesting. Bars, izakayas, patios, French cafés, and now this, an actual urban winery with an actual wine garden.
So I do stop. Even though, no way I can start glugging rosé. Got a ton of work tonight.
Kinda oddly, the main front door says, “Exit Only.” An arrow points you around the side of the house between two old buildings. One of them boasts a fabbo three-story brick wall that shines red in the sloping sun. Then, I see tables and lanterns and weird structures back there, sheltering what looks like a little urban forest.
But first you have to go through a long bar. Dozen black-and-white high chairs line it. The other wall’s a brightly lit display of wine bottles. This is where you place your order. “Carruth Cellars,” says the menu, “bringing grapes to the people.”
Except, not that cheaply. You can buy flights and pair them with recommended boards of cheeses. Like the “Bordeaux” selection: you get small glasses of Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon.
And they suggest you pair them with an “Old World” cheese board consisting of Holey Cow, a buttery cheese from Paso Robles; a tangy English cow cheese; an Italian goat cheese; a Spanish “grassy” goat cheese; and a Manchego Spanish sheep cheese. The wine flight costs $15 and the cheese board, $15. So we’re talking $30.
“Foodwise,” says the manager, Margeaux, “we don’t have a lot. We’ve only been open three weeks. We will be increasing our food to salads and other ideas. But right now we’re just helping people enjoy good cheese and wine combinations. Like, sweet and sweet don’t go together, but fruity cab sav and our salty, herby Manchego cheese are a great combination.”
“Can I just get like food, but not the paired wines?” I ask. I know it’s not regular.
“Oh, sure. And we do have extras, like salami and fruit and nuts and breads.”
Hmm... I check the menu. This may be doable after all. Under “charcuterie,” they have wine-cured salami, bresaola (beef), or speck (a kind of prosciutto) for $3 each. Three bucks! Now we’re talking my language, even though I know this is going to be death by a thousand cuts.
Fruits are $2 each. You get a choice of grapes, other seasonal or dried fruit, plus cornichon pickles or olives. Then you have spreads like fig ($1), honeycomb ($2), or olive tapenade ($2). And breads ($1) to spread them on, such as slices of baguette, fig and olive crisps, or gluten-free crackers. And nuts: almonds, candied pecans, or mixed nuts ($3). And a dozen cheeses to choose from, each $3 for a few slices.
I go for the salami, the grapes, the fig spread, a mix of almonds and candied pecans, and some slices of the Manchego al Romero, a cheese all the way from Spain.
“Uh, water?” I ask.
“No problem,” says Margeaux. “Bottled water’s in the garden. Still or sparkling.”
Then I’m outside, in this magic space, among young trees growing in crates: olive, jacaranda, cypress, baby pines, and bougainvillea. Potted plants and herbs and flowers, old lights, candle lanterns, scattered wine barrels. And the place has nice shabby-chic found furniture, along with collections of old buckets and rusty overhead walkways. Groups of gals and a couple are out here, too, drinking the flights with no food. There’s cool music like you’d hear in the lobby of the Hard Rock Hotel, but apart from that it’s surprisingly quiet. Except that every four or five minutes, a jet hurtles through one corner of our sky, heading into Lindbergh, wheels looking like they could clip the building next door.
“You get used to that,” says Kristina. She’s just brought my plateful of food. Talk about shock: She has a beautiful shock of electric-green hair. It works.
So does my plate. It’s nicely presented. You get red flowers on the bread and grapes and jam, plus sticks of rosemary and sage sending up little wafts of herbal essence into your nostrils, and plenty of slices of Bread and Cie baguette to lay it all on.
I mean, honestly, it doesn’t look like a huge amount for my $13, but it’s interesting. Kristina points to the mess of herbs forming the skin of the Manchego. “That’s rosemary and sage, too,” she says. “It’s made from sheep milk. I love that cheese.”
Actually, the reason I chose the Manchego cheese is because it comes from La Mancha, home of my man, Don Quixote. Love that guy. Why? Because his cause is hopeless, but he never gives up.
Here’s the surprise: this li’l plateful is filling. I try all kinds of combinations. The cheese (delicious, crumbly, tart, salty, herby), with the salami, the fig spread, the almonds, the candied pecans. Oh, and I go and pour myself some sparkling water (free!). It could be champagne. And it helps slurry everything down.
But the totally most delicious combo is those candied pecans with the grapes. And with the bread they are magic.
I start to feel a swelling pride. Normally at this stage of a meal, I’d be gunged out with grease, fat, salt, sugar, and regrets. Here, it’s been light, taste-pricking, -and healthy. I pluck the ends of my branches of rosemary and sage and rub them in my hands. Mmm. Pungent.
I head out past that first sandwich board. “Stop and smell the rosé”? Maybe it should read, “Stop and smell the rosemary.
2215 Kettner Boulevard, Little Italy
Hours: 4–10 p.m. daily
Prices: “Old World” cheese board (includes Holey Cow (Paso Robles), Ivy’s Reserve (cow’s milk, U.K.), Pantaleo (goat, Italy), Queso Leonora (goat, Spain), Manchego al Romero (sheep, Spain), $15; à la carte items include wine-cured salami ($3), bresaola (beef, $3), speck (prosciutto, $3); grapes, $2; cornichon pickles, $2; fig spread, $1; honeycomb, $2; candied pecan nuts, $3; almonds, $3; baguette, $1; Noord Hollander (cow’s milk, Netherlands), $3; Alp Blossom (cow’s milk, Austria), $3; Ewephoria (sheep’s milk, Netherlands), $3
Nearest Bus Stop: Grape and Kettner (southbound); India and Cedar (northbound)
Trolley: Green Line
Nearest Trolley Stop: Little Italy/County Center, (California Street between Beech and Cedar)