The November evening rests calm and crisp. The hustle and bustle of the weekday has turned into a peaceful twilight. In Library Park, the gazebo shines, gently lit by the reflections of streetlights. Even the lake, now dark purple and shimmering, seems at ease. And just across the street from the park, you’ll find On the Waterfront, Lake County’s new tasting room and restaurant. Warmly lit, it welcomes visitors to come in, sit back, and relax for a while. The back wall is filled with hundreds of bottles of Sol Rouge wines, known as some of the best in the United States and winners of more awards than you can count. To the left is the tasting room, but we’re headed to the right, where we sit at a table in the dining area. Behind us, a wall of backlit bottles glows warmly while big band music plays quietly in the background.
As we admire the craftsmanship of the wall of wine, Helena Welsh, General Manager of On the Waterfront, greets us. Her bright smile reflects the brightness of the restaurant. “We wanted this place to be welcoming,” she says after we chat for a minute. “We are very inclusive. If you are interested in wine or want to learn more, you are welcome. We want to prove that wine is for everyone.”
And On the Waterfront takes the confusion out of choosing wine. There’s no need to worry about what wine goes with what food. Every dish in the restaurant has been crafted to fit perfectly with Sol Rouge wines. And, if you’re concerned, each item on the menu has a suggested wine pairing which removes any doubt about which wine to pick.
Soon, the waitress brings two flights of wine for tasting–one of whites, and the second of reds. Four glasses spiral down the holder, transitioning from lightest to heaviest.
“Our wine is meant to be a shared experience, so enjoy!” Helena smiles as our faces light up with surprise. Each flight takes the guesswork out of learning about wine. Start with the glass at the top and just work your way down to the bottom.
If you plan it right, you’ll get two flights–one of white wines and one of reds. Then you’ll have a perfect pairing for whatever you order. Owner and winemaker Bryan Kane, who was awarded the 2015 Winemaker of the Year by the American Fine Wine Competition, puts thought and care into his wines, ensuring that each sip is a delicacy.
Plus, the food at On the Waterfront is meant to be shared. “Eating is best when you share it,” Helena says as our server brings a bowl of Pear and Walnut salad, crafted with local walnuts, gently poached local pears, spring mix greens, goat cheese, and a delicate balsamic dressing.
So begins our shared eating experience. Take what you want and pass it on. Each bite of poached pear is delightfully crisp, juicy, and full of flavor, while the walnuts bring out the earthiness of the mixed greens. Happily, the dressing is perfectly balanced with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, not too sour and not too oily–only absolute perfection. One of the best parts is that if you order a flight of wine, you can taste it with Glitter Sparkling Wine, Viognier, Gypsy Blanc, or a Rosé. Each wine brings out different notes in the salad, creating a cornucopia of flavors.
“We want each person to have an experience when they dine with us,” Helena explains. “We plan for an hour and a half for each table. Take your time when you come in. Experience our wines and food.” She laughs. “Share it with your friends!”
To our left, a table is doing just that. They ordered a bottle of Petite Sirah, one of Sol Rouge’s breathtaking wines that is consistently awarded 96 to 97 points by Wine Spectator. The server brings over a three-foot-tall decanter and slowly pours the bottle into it. The wine swirls, breathes, and stretches out for a perfect tasting. The guests at the table smile as they settle into their own dining experience.
Our attention returns back to our table as two bowls of chicken sausage gumbo take center stage. Chef Sergio Ramos has outdone himself. On the Waterfront regularly serves three to four different soups weekly, and all show attention to detail. The gumbo is no exception. Every bite fills the mouth with savory, peppery flavor and the broad, warm notes of the sausage. The topping of white rice brings texture, and a sprinkling of chives adds a sharp contrast. Of course, each dish is meant to be enjoyed with wine, and all draw out different flavors of the gumbo. Depending upon which wine you sip, you’ll find bright accents or deeper, fuller ones. In my opinion, it achieved perfection when paired with some Gypsy Rouge, a free-spirited and beautiful blend of Grenache, Mourvedre, and Cinsaut filled with bright fruit notes balanced by gentle tannins and minerality.
We are surprised by the arrival of a fondue tray. I suppose it shouldn’t have surprised me. A few minutes earlier, a fresh, clean plate with a skewer replaced my empty soup bowl, and I hadn’t noticed because I was debating between which wine I preferred, the Syrah or Petite Sirah, and was loving my dilemma. The Syrah’s bold expression demands attention. However, the more subtle notes of the Petite Sirah, so balanced with its minerality, tannins, and plummyness, carries the fullness of flavor through each sip from beginning to end.
But the fondue distracts me, and I’m taken back to my childhood, poking chunks of baguette, bits of pear, and blueberries into the warm cheese. It’s smooth, rich, creamy, and not too sharp, and delightfully complements the bread and fruit pairings.
And just when we think our dining experience is nearing its end, the best is yet to come. Chef, Sergio has outdone himself again with another of his evening specials: Panko Crusted Swordfish topped with capers resting on a bed of creamy mashed potatoes and accompanied by a generous side of lightly cooked seasonal veggies. Every bite brings in broad, diverse flavors–the creaminess of the potatoes, the bite of the capers, the gentle crunch of the panko. It doesn’t matter which wine we tasted with it; all made our dinner a heavenly experience.
Sadly, after such an abundance of food, we couldn’t find room for tiramisu. But, of course, that also was good news, because it means we’ll have to come back, enjoy more items from On the Waterfront’s diverse and thoughtful menu, drink more of Sol Rouge’s spectacular wine, and hopefully save room for dessert.
If you want to try something new, fresh, and truly authentic, On The Waterfront restaurant and winery will not disappoint–I promise. My recommendation is to bring a few friends, order a flight of red and white wines, and start with an appetizer. Then enjoy a soup or share a salad before moving on to the main course. If you don’t know exactly what to order, don’t worry. Your server will make great suggestions, and you can’t go wrong with the chef’s special. Whatever you choose, your experience will be thoughtful, welcoming, and delicious. And there’s a good chance that On the Waterfront just might be your new favorite spot in Lake County.
60 3rd St, Lakeport, CA
Hours: 11-8, Seven days a week.
Helena Welsh, General Manager of On the Waterfront