07 January, 2009

Wine Bar Wednesday - 1.2009: Laiola, San Francisco

Okay, so it's not exactly a "wine bar", but their charter does include a desire to be a cool neighborhood hangout suitable for small bites or large dinners and is built around a love of Spanish wines and/or varietals. What is that I ask you, if not the definition of a great wine bar? So, when I received their email: "The economy sucks. Tuesdays don't", my deep love of all things from Catalunya combined with their cute recessionista bait, and I knew it was time to hit Laiola (lye-O-la). Located at 2031 Chestnut Street in San Francisco's Marina District, the restaurant has a welcoming exterior. Once you walk in, you immediately notice a sophisticated appeal, that manages to stay homey. We got there pretty early.... Did I mention the email with the Tuesday specials called out "Sofrito-braised pork meatballs"? ...and the staff was just gearing up, but once they hit their stride, we found the service knowledgeable and attentive. When I first saw the wines by the glass, I thought, "Yikes!" as none of the reds were under $11, but when the wines arrived, it turned out Laiola serves 250 ml (1/3 bottle) carafinas, which is a great way to easily and neatly share a glass with a friend while still getting plenty to drink. Plus what a way to try a bunch of lovingly selected Spanish wines! The list which is exclusively Spanish or local expressions of Spanish varietals, has a lot of depth at all price points. Luscious Lush Thea as always was not only a fun companion but a great resource for picking out what wine to try. I ended up ordering a '07 Cellars Can Blau, Montsant which is a Spanish blend of Syrah-Garnacha-Carignena. It has a lovely nose with a whisper of butterscotch and a hint of strawberry jam. The flavors were Berry Bold, with spice and blueberry and dark cherry flavors. Like a lot of European wines, this was definitely a little on the food slutty side. It was a good sipping wine, but great when paired with the snacks. Thea opted for the '06 Juan Gil Monastrell, Jumilla. As you know I am extremely partial to the Monastrell-Mataro-Mourvedre grape. This wine was an excellent example. Lovely aromas even with a whiff of chamomile and a delightful blackberry savor. This wine was as tasty on its own as it was with the food.

As for the food. We ordered Chickpea Croquetas, crispy well seasoned sticks of olive-oil deep fried goodness. Patatas Bravas with chipotle mayonnaise. Perfectly fried wedges of potatoes accompanied by smoky rich sauce. Frying in extra virgin olive oils brings rich, floral notes to the food. And the sublime Sofrito Braised Pork Meatballs. These were delightful. The meat was perfectly seasoned with rich flavors and hints of exotic rabble rousing spices, led politely by cinnamon, demonstrating in a richly flavored tomato sauce. With the wine---perfect pairs.


Our server Jay, also helped us pick out a sticky, in this case a sweet Pedro Ximenez, which was delectable--raisin walnut aromas. Silky, syrupy mouthfeel. Great flavors of cherries and raisins. It went perfectly with the Churros---dainty puffs of crisp dough brushed with cinnamon-sugar and served next to a frothy demitasse of Spanish hot chocolate.


So if we apply Xandria's Wine Bar criteria:


Affordability - Adjustable QPR, which I think is a great idea. By reviewing the specials and adjusting your schedule, you can get super values on elegant, expertly prepared Catalonian delights

Wine list - Interesting. The wine list is like a virtual field trip to Spain. So if you currently love or want to learn more about Spanish wine, this is a good place

Wait staff- Very knowledgeable, and a good balance of attentive vs. intrusive. We had so much fun with our server. And Jay, the host helped us a lot with wine selections.

Food: Very good. We were in full on comfort food mode and loved what we picked (fried carbs-is there anything better?), but there are a lot of interesting salads, heartier meats, and stunning charcuterie on the menu we left untried.

In summary, two thumbs up. We loved it!


2031 Chestnut Street,
San Francisco, CA 94123
P: 415.346.5641
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