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Still Hungry After the Holidays? Meet Temecula Valley’s Other Rockstars – the Chefs and Restaurants of Wine Country

Friday, January 3rd, 2020

We all associate wine country with gorgeous scenery, rolling vineyards, welcoming tasting rooms, the unmistakable sound of corks popping… but, unique to Temecula Valley Southern California, we also find a whole world of culinary delight waiting to be uncovered. Unlike many other prominent wine regions, visitors to Temecula Valley can actually dine among the vines at quite a few restaurants on-site at the local wineries.

Before we all embark on the post-holiday cleanse or New Year diet, and just in time for Restaurant Month, we thought we would turn the spotlight on the amazing places to dine in wine country, not to mention Temecula Valley Southern California’s other rockstars – Wine Country Chefs. Here are a few to check out.

Chef Kevin Grant

The Cave Café at Oak Mountain

Dine 75 feet underground in one of Wine Country’s most unique settings – the wine cave at Oak Mountain, which features a seasonal menu cooked with locally sourced ingredients, designed to share and pair with Oak Mountain wines. Chef Kevin Grant has honed his craft through years working in some of the top kitchens in California and around the world, from resort-style dining to intimate, chef-driven restaurants. His perspective not only comes from his classical French training, but incorporates the unique backgrounds of others in his kitchen, through which he hopes to tell the story of California cuisine – where it has been, and where it is going.

Chef Steve Stawinski

Creekside Grille at Wilson Creek Winery

Here, diners enjoy wine-inspired casual fare based on seasonal, locally-sourced ingredients, while surrounded by lush, 30-year-old Cabernet Sauvignon grapevines, an herb garden, and baskets brimming with colorful flowers. Executive Chef Steve Stawinski credits his passion for cuisine to his upbringing in New Jersey, where food was always a focal point in his family. He even tells the story of adding white wine to a pan once as a child when his mother’s back was turned, because he had seen it done on a cooking show. Voted as one of the Inland Empire’s Best Chefs in 2009, Steve brings decades of experience in the hospitality industry, from high-end steakhouses to bistros and banquets.

Chef Anthony Bar

Meritage at Callaway

Few winery restaurants offer guests such stunning vineyard views as Meritage Restaurant at Callaway Vineyard & Winery. Executive Chef Anthony Bar brings with him passion and talent cultivated over many years studying and working in kitchens the world over, including Lille, France, where he attended culinary school; St. Martin where he served as the Executive Chef at Coco Beach Orient Bay; Texas, where he served as Executive Chef at high-demand restaurant La Maison; and Los Angeles. World travel has deeply influenced his culinary vision, which he now applies to creating seasonal, farm-to-table meals enhanced by the winery’s on-site greenhouse and garden.

Chef Jason Barradas

Pinnacle Restaurant at Falkner Winery

This multi-award-winning restaurant not only boasts truly spectacular panoramic views of Wine Country, but also thoughtful – and decadent! – Mediterranean-style cuisine. Executive Chef Jason Barradas has a long history in California kitchens, having trained at Le Cordon Bleu in San Francisco and worked at five-star restaurant Amaya at the Grand Del Mar Resort. He brings this immense experience to Pinnacle, where he works to create fresh and imaginative dishes to pair with Falkner’s lineup of premium wines.

Chef Alex Alimirante

Sangio’s Deli at Cougar Vineyards & Winery

Cougar Vineyards & Winery focuses on quality wines made from Italian grape varieties. Of course, no glass of Italian wine (SoCal-style) would be complete without an expertly made Italian sub, panino, cheese and charcuterie plate, or hand-tossed pizza on offer at this casual yet totally gourmet spot located conveniently in the winery’s tasting room. Sangio’s Chef Alex Alimirante trained at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts and brings with him 7 years of culinary experience. Lucky for us, he is leading a new series of cooking classes at the winery. 

Chef Jose Esparza

The Vineyard Rose at South Winery Resort and Spa

This all-day restaurant offers breakfast, lunch and dinner featuring California ingredients – some from South Coast’s very own organic gardens – promoting healthy lifestyle menu selections. Executive Chef Jose Esparza oversees culinary operations and develops menus at both South Coast and Carter Estate Winery and Resort. Being a true Wine Country chef, he works closely with award-winning South Coast Winery Master Winemaker Jon McPherson to offer guests wine-friendly pairings to enjoy with their meals.

Other top spots to enjoy a gorgeous meal in an equally gorgeous vineyard setting include the European castle-like Carol’s Restaurant at Baily Winery; Mama’s Rosa’s Trattoria at Robert Renzoni Vineyards, featuring Wine Country’s only brick oven for some of the most epic pizzas this side of Italy; the ultra-elegant Restaurant at Leoness Cellars; the stunning al-fresco terrace Restaurant at Avensole Winery; and Baba Joon’s Kitchen at Fazeli Cellars, offering Persian-inspired Mediterranean cuisine in a spectacular setting.

While not technically in Wine Country, Bluewater Grill in the heart of Temecula’s business area is also a must-visit and certainly deserves an honorable mention. Not only does this hot spot offer fresh, sustainably caught seafood prepared in a variety of ways from classic to modern, amazing happy hour specials, a shaded (and heated when needed!) patio and pet-friendly area, it also boasts one of Temecula’s best kept secrets – zero corkage fee on local wine, making it the perfect spot for dinner after a day of wine tasting to bring one of your local purchases to pair with your meal.

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