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GAY SAN DIEGO October 8-October 21, 2010


750 W. Fir St., Suite 101 in Little Italy (619) 501-4561

one-bedroom apartment. And its glassy exterior appears more like a real estate office than a desti- nation for wine and food. Yet everything about it feels grand and lush.

Located at base level of The

Q, a modern residential struc- ture designed by urban housing developer Jonathan Segal, its total seating capacity is 24, with the majority of seats placed cozily around a three-sided mahogany bar. High ceilings and towering windows framed in maroon velvet drapes strike an airy, but intimate setting for what turned out to be a seven-course tasting dinner of superlative quality paired with fine wines and exceptional service. Red Velvet is the brainchild of Segal’s wife, Wendy, whose long- held dream of opening a wine bar materialized several months ago, shortly after the building went up. While designing the small space, she made prime staff picks: Certi- fied sommelier Katie Brookshire, a member of the LGBT commu- nity who earned her credentials at the Professional Culinary Institute in San Jose; and Chef Luke Johnson, a culinary gradu- ate of Johnson and Wales who learned how to ultimately cook

RRed Velvet ed Velvet isn’t much bigger than a tight,

obscure wines that rarely land on retail shelves, which Brookshire pre-matches to Johnson’s menu of small, intricate dishes that change every Tuesday. Those ubiquitous cheeseboards and pa- ninis common to most other wine bars don’t enter into the equation. Visiting with a friend fully

versed in “wine language,” we each opted for the entire tasting menu paired with Brookshire’s “juice picks” of the week, begin- ning with deconstructed water- melon soup poured over a weave of green beans and wine-soaked rinds. The cool, sweet liquid was surprisingly bright orange, originating from a curious type of melon named “moon and stars” that Johnson snagged that same day from Suzie’s Farms. The vino accompanying the dish was equally rare, a Spanish white (Raventós i Blanc) that blends Muscat and a lesser- known grape called Macabeo, used also in Spanish bubbly. The herby, citrus undertones of the wine synchronized with the cloy-

Creamy Melodie goat cheese with

walnuts and dates sang tunefully to a peachy chardonnay.

with panache when working at the award-winning Melisse Restaurant in Santa Monica. The result is an operation exposing you to prized and

ing pith of the soup while quelling the punch imparted from a smear of creamy habenaro sauce on the lip of the bowl. The menu progressed to

pasta pillows stuffed with an ultra-creamy puree of chante- relle mushrooms and Parmesan. Brookshire hit it right on the nail; the white Burgundy finishes with the pith of cured meat, thus strik- ing accord to the fleshy flavors leaping from the pasta filling. My favorite dish and wine of the evening, conceived with no less deliberation than all of the other pairings we consumed, was foie gras in caramel sauce with a Port-like grenache-blanc from southern French, called Rives-

Prices: Small plates, $9 to $15; complete tasting menu, usually seven courses, averages $79 per person or $119 with wine pairings

H=Poor HH=Mediocre HHH=Good HHHH=Exceptional

Little Box of Luxury Frank Sabatini Jr.

(top) A tasting of foie gras with fig; (bottom right) Sommelier Katie Brookshire tends to the bar, which occu- pies most of Red Velvet’s space; (bottom left) watermelon soup poured over rinds and green beans. (Frank Sabatini Jr./GSD)

altes Ambré. Sauterne would’ve been the easy match to duck liver. But when the chef decided to add a couple preparations of figs to the dish, Brookshire dug deeper with a more intelligent choice that gave us whispers of maple in the wine’s profile. All combined, it was like ingesting candied nougat with the added bonus of saturated fat laced in. Other courses included lamb

two ways; the tenderloin quickly seared and the belly section braised in Madeira and apples. Both were sensational and paired lovingly to Domaine Aury syrah boasting meat-friendly notes of

blackberries and plums. Creamy Mélodie goat cheese with wal- nuts and dates sang tunefully to a peachy chardonnay; although the chef’s dreamy brown-butter custard with huckleberries pre- sented a tough pairing challenge. Brookshire assigned to it a forti- fied, boozy Banyuls Grand Cru, which I felt lapsed into a sugar war with the dessert. Admittedly, a glass of cold milk would have sufficed. Brookshire is a consummate bar host, tending to customers with sharp intuition while sharing her vast knowledge without uppi- ty intimidation. Before each pour, she raises the Riedel stemware to the light to check for smudges, sniffs the glass to ensure that it isn’t tainted by soap or chlorine, and finally, she pours herself a fast sip before proceeding with yours. As a result, the chances of being served oxidized or corked wines are zilch.

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