Hollywood Beach Wine Company  
3500 S. Harbor Blvd., Suite 111
$6 – $27

It was one of those cold, blustery nights. The kind where you want to build a fire in the fireplace and curl up under a blanket with a glass of wine and a bowl of soup. Yet we had a date night planned, the sitter had been arranged for weeks prior, and after a long week, by golly, we were going to get out of the house and have some fun.

Where we ended up just might have been the perfect destination on such a night: Hollywood Beach Wine Company, a dark, cozy restaurant in the Channel Islands Harbor. Wine is the backbone here, but complemented by a menu self-described as “Old World meets California Cuisine.” Dimly lit with a dark wooden bar, black tablecloths and burgundy window treatments, the atmosphere hints of “Old World” as well.

The menu, brainchild of Chef Marie McGrath, is built around classic dishes like baked brie in puff pastry and French onion soup, and balanced out by more unusual dishes like lobster and pancetta sliders and pasta with wild boar Bolognese. Charcuterie platters abound with cured meats and pickled vegetables; and lamb burgers, caramelized onions and mint aioli are tucked into sliders. The carpetbagger filet of beef is stuffed with herb pâté, while on certain days you may even find a salmon Reuben sandwich on special.

On this particular night, dining inside was a must, but as we approached the restaurant, it was easy to imagine how nice the setting would be on a warm, sunny afternoon. A seat on the patio, a view of the boats bouncing in the harbor, a bottle of wine … you get the picture.

As we perused the menu, our server brought us a dish of marinated olives that were both warm and flavorful. We could see sommelier Greg Leon visiting with other diners and making recommendations, so we asked to speak with him as well. A jovial, approachable guy, his passion for wine is palpable. Once we told him we were considering the cumin-glazed baby back ribs, he lit up with delight and quickly brought us a taste of Seghesio zinfandel, a wine, he explained, from one of the oldest wineries in Sonoma County. Sold by his zeal and the taste of the wine, we ordered a bottle.

As we sipped the bold wine, we began our meal with one of the starters: Asian lollipop chicken wings. Trimmed to look like little treats on a stick, the chicken was simple, with a crispy skin. When dipped in the sticky sweet red chili pepper sauce, the little one-bite treats became irresistible.

Before our other dishes arrived, we enjoyed a small loaf of crusty bread and a house salad — filled with baby romaine hearts, heirloom tomatoes, hearts of palm, red onion and locally grown avocado served with bleu cheese dressing. Though we enjoyed the crisp vegetables and the smooth hearts of palm, the small amount of dressing offered wasn’t too memorable.

Many of the dinner entrees can be ordered in smaller versions as tapas, which we opted to do for the Bolognese and the ribs. The Bolognese is made with free-range wild boar, and tossed with capunti pasta, a noodle that is hand-rolled and described by many as looking like an open pea pod. The noodles were tender, but hearty enough to stand up to the sauce. Not gamey in the least, the sauce had nice floral notes in addition to the acidity of the tomatoes.

The cumin-glazed baby back ribs were the standout of the evening. The meat is tender to the point of falling off the bone, with just a hint of cumin. When dipped in the accompanying apricot sauce — sweet and jammy with an unexpected pop of horseradish — the dish is elevated even more. The generous order of four ribs is served with a sweet corn and tomato salsa and mashed potatoes.

Though stuffed, we were in no hurry to head back out into the cold; so when our waitress went over the dessert options (like strawberry shortcake and layered tuxedo cake), we chose the Reese’s mud pie. Soon thereafter, a piece of pie large enough for two people arrived. Peanut butter ice cream is filled with chunks of peanut butter cups and layered into a salty crust reminiscent of toffee flavors, and the whole affair is covered in a layer of milk chocolate.

As we finished, the sommelier popped in at our table with a nice after-dinner treat: a small taste of Choco Noir, a red wine infused with cocoa and espresso. He appeared giddy with delight, having overheard us talking about our love for chocolate. And we couldn’t have asked for a better send-off as we headed out into the cold, dark night.

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