Sonoma Wine Garden

There is something very seductive about putting your credit card into an “enomatic” slot and having a glass of wine emerge below. Seductive and dangerous! At Sonoma Wine Garden in the remodeled Santa Monica Mall, the choices on a three-ounce pour this week ranged from $6.60 to $90, so a tip of the wrong handle could make a big difference. In any event, the wines at Sonoma Wine Garden are all well chosen — we sampled a beautiful tempranillo and a lovely New Zealand sauvignon blanc recommended by sommelier Anthony Lam, and both were delightful. Serious wine aficionados can even join the Sonoma Wine Garden wine club, and in addition to weekly meet-and-greets, sample pours from the restricted cellar.

Of course, a well-appointed “garden patio” table by the fireplace on a reasonably balmy February evening in Santa Monica is an ideal setting for a casual dinner or a celebration. Our group of eight was easily accommodated, but there were plenty of romantic twosomes around us outside. Usually winter patios are too cold for me, even in the Southland, but space heaters and design made outdoor seating totally comfortable. There’s also a pleasant dining room with an astonishing wine bottle chandelier and anime-style murals inside for those who prefer interior IMG_9800dining.

We were there on a Whiskey Wednesday, and the menu promised intriguing cocktail options — complete with food pairing — for sturdier drinkers than any of us proved to be. We ordered from the main menu and found several small plates much to our liking. Among the highlights: A vegetarian lasagna with goat cheese bechamel that for once has more veggies than pasta. Grilled shrimp, light and almost crispy, though not batter fried, and you’ll want to eat a dozen. Okay, maybe two dozen. And the burrata salad is one of the best salads I’ve had anywhere: Fresh arugula with pomegranate seeds, sliced pear, candied walnuts and a generous helping of fresh burrata cheese, with a lemon vinaigrette dressing. Totally delicious and the fruit changes with what’s available nearby at the twice-weekly farmers market.

Other tempting options on the menu include an eclectic cheese plate, legendary truffle fries and pistachio pistou pizza, as well as several larger main courses generally more appealing to carnivores. Nonetheless, we had several vegans in our party and everybody went home well sated.

395 Santa Monica Place, Santa Monica, CA 90401, (424) 214-4560

Photo courtesy Benjamin Conley

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