I found Tastes by turning off the 5 freeway at 5pm, hoping to get a more scenic view and maybe a nice place to stop for dinner along the California Coast as I waited for rush hour traffic to subside.

If everything does happen for a reason, then traffic is my friend, because I found a fabulous wine shop/restaurant in Encinitas, on historic Highway 101. The blackboard ad on the sidewalk announcing a winemaker dinner interested me enough to look over the menu, and when I saw that all entrees on Tuesday and Wednesdays are discounted 20%, I couldn’t resist the temptation and walked in for dinner. I am so glad I did. The centerpiece of the room is a small wine store stocked with 350 bottles, all personally selected vintners and vintages from all over the world, from a French Pomeral to a boutique selection that is labeled with the vintner’s name; all the bottles were priced at or below a discount retailer.

If you can decide which of the 75 wines offered by the glass you prefer, you are better at deciding than I am; I chose to taste a flight of Bordeaux with my meal and it was presented with a detailed printed explanation of each of the wines, along with the price per glass, should I decide to indulge further during my meal. The flight ($17 for three 2 oz pours) included a Pessac (described as smooth), a St. Emilion (described as racy), and a Pomeral (described as elegant). I was happy with all three for different reasons, but my favorite was definitely the Pomeral. Having all three to taste side by side really made their differences and my preferences stand out more clearly than if I had simply chosen one with my meal.

Prix fixe dinners are only $35 for three courses which include wonderful dishes for meat and fish eaters alike. The dishes also include number notes which refer back to wine numbers, so you can orchestrate your meal like a gourmet virtuoso. If you prefer to have your wines chosen for you, just add $25 to include the wine pairings for your meal. The menu changes daily, but the day I was there the prix fix included a choice of trio of hot soups or a cold appetizer, a main course of your choice from any of the entrees listed, and a dessert.

I chose the braised short ribs with a Cabernet port reduction. The meat was so tender and flavorful that I could have eaten it with a spoon and a bib. Beautifully plated with baby root vegetables, including roasted baby brussel sprouts, yellow carrots, asparagus and purple fingerling potatoes, this was a wise recommendation by the waitress. I want to come back for the Albacore tuna with fingerling potatoes, olives, capers, saffron broth, tomato concassee, and fennel slaw, or the Panko crusted soft shell crab, with baby greens, with a Meyer lemon chive beurre blanc with a white wine flight. Unfortunately, I had no room for dessert, but their espresso had a perfect crema which I enjoyed as the sun set over the shoreline.

Hopefully traffic will be terrible again next week and I’ll have to stop here for dinner again, darn!

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