Café Classy: Get a Taste of Cheese and Wine at the Old Vine

If you’ve never gone to a wine-and-cheese tasting before, you should definitely add it to your “to-do” list. I’m not much of a wine person. Hesitancy marked my initial response to the thought of partaking in a tasting. However, one Monday night boredom prompted me to go and I found myself at the Old Vine Café.
There are numerous wine-and-cheese tastings offered throughout Orange County. It seems difficult to choose from among them. The Old Vine Café should be your choice for the following reasons: the flavors of the wines and cheeses. It is a “tasting” after all. If the quality of the product doesn’t hold up, there is no reason to go. With that said, the Old Vine Café is worth visiting.
You will get to sample five pre-selected wines. They are set in order so that the lightest is tasted first and the strongest is left for last. Of course, each wine is partnered with a pre-selected cheese. The cheese portions were adequate: each of the five slices provides two to three moderate sized bites. It’s just enough to get the taste of each cheese, but not so much as to feel tired of the flavor. The types of cheeses vary and change every week. The night I visited, I sampled cheeses made from both cow’s milk and sheep’s milk. A basket of assorted crackers is also provided (and refilled if emptied, as it was by my roommate, friend and me on our visit).
“I like that we got to try a dessert wine,” said Tracy Lwi, a fourth-year sociology major and fellow Old Vine Café attendee. Like Lwi, I definitely agree that the dessert wine made the tasting that much better. The dessert wine is poured last, after the other four wines have been tasted. In this way, the dessert wine stays chilled as long as possible, which gives it a better flavor. Before going to the tasting, I didn’t think that a dessert wine would be included in the menu. I’m glad I was proven wrong. As the sweetest, I enjoyed the dessert wine the most.
Another reason that the Old Vine Café is worth your time is the price. We’re college students after all. Compared to other wine and cheese tastings, the Old Vine Café is fair. At the café, $20 will get you the whole shebang. That’s the wine, cheese, limitless crackers and satisfaction of partaking in something classy.
As for ambiance, the Old Vine Café does it right. The restaurant is not larger than 15 tables. Such a small atmosphere like this makes the service feel more personal and less hectic. Like the vibe of the restaurant, the service also feels sincere and much more personal. When I visited, our server was helpful, attentive and more than willing to answer our questions.
If you’re into supporting local Orange County businesses or mom-and-pop-type places, then this is also the restaurant for you. Unlike the majority of restaurants that are owned by large corporations, Old Vine Café is owned and operated by two brothers: Brandon McDonald and Chef Mark McDonald. Support locals! It’s also another reason not to feel so bad if you happen to splurge on an extra bottle of wine.
There is much more to the Old Vine Café besides the Monday night wine and cheese tastings (4-6 p.m.). The café is a full service restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. It offers such unique items as fresh crepes, homemade granola, caramel apple French toast and a pizza omelet. As a bonus, the various menu items are changed from season to season. So you can expect fresh and local ingredients in unique and flavorful creations.
Old Vine is one of those restaurants that leaves a memorable impression. It’s a small place that wouldn’t necessarily grab your attention at first glance. But after you walk through the doors, pull up a chair and have your first bite of cheese or sip of wine (or whatever you may choose), Old Vine Café will have left its mark—and a very good one at that.
Old Vine Café, located in The CAMP, 2937 Bristol St. Suite A-102, Costa Mesa; www.oldvinecafe.com.

Food thoughts? E-mail me: rleeson@uci.edu.