My favorite way to dine is with a tasting menu. Done right, it lets you get a good sense of the chef’s style, introduces you to new wines, and turns dinner into an experiential night out. So I was excited to be invited to join other media at Smashing Grapes Kitchen + Wine Bar for a recent wine-pairing dinner.
This spot on Jennifer Road, which opened in September, is owned by the Titan Hospitality Group, the same folks behind Blackwall Hitch. But this vibe is completely different, with a California Coastal concept under the direction of Chef Matthew Newsome. The airy main dining room looks like something out of Napa, with farmhouse tables and natural accents. The lounge area has ample bar seating and its own small plates menu, ideal for happy hour. Outside are two expansive patios; one lively with fire pits, the other a bit quieter and dog friendly.
Wine Pairing Dinner
Our five-course pairing was led by Wine & Beverage Director/Sommelier Julian Albornoz, who created the wine list for the restaurant. It spans 350 bottles (with plans to add more), with approximately 38 available by the glass. “I look for off-the-beaten path boutique wineries that express a sense of place,” he said of his aesthetic.
Our dinner followed their Central Coast wine tasting menu, paired with dishes from the menu. “Central Coast is a hidden secret,” he said. “The cool breeze from the Pacific Ocean at night helps to push out humidity and cool the grapes leading to a higher acidity in wine, which is very important for food pairings.”
The opener was a tomarashi cheese plate, paired with a 2019 Sybaryite sauvignon blanc from Santa Barbara’s Happy Canyon. The bright, dry wine matched perfectly with the specialty cheese, from Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co. In their version, creamy, semi-hard Italian toma cheese is spiced with nori, sesame, chili and ginger, which reflects Chef Newsome’s taste for mixing flavors and influences.
Next up was shrimp ceviche with chimichurri and a punch-packing Mexican adobe, paired with a 2017 Center of Effort Chardonnay. This small-batch Edna Valley wine was robust enough to stand up to the adobo without smothering it. “You can do a lot of things with chardonnay to make it different,” said Albornoz when I complimented him on the pick.
The middle course was my favorite: pork belly with pickled chili and a mojo verde, paired with Zocker Gruner Veltliner. The pork belly was expertly cooked with just the right combination of crispy exterior and creamy interior. It’s the kind of dish you come back for—and I actually did the following week.
On the fourth plate, roast maitake mushroom with cauliflower puree, placed the meaty, charred mushroom center stage, as a protein would be presented. It’s available as a vegan dinner option on their “Healthy Living” menu, which reflects the main menu but with adaptations like gluten-free pasta and cauliflower flatbread crust that work for vegan and gluten-free diners. I love that people with dietary restrictions can enjoy the same caliber of food at Smashing Grapes rather than being treated like an afterthought, which happens at so many restaurants.
While finishing the last course—grilled lamb chops paired with a lively “The Scorpion and the Frog” zinfandel from The Fableist in Paso Robles—I asked Albornoz about his thoughts on regional wines. He has three from Virginia’s Barboursville Vineyards on the menu, as well as a red blend from The Vineyards at Dodon, in nearby Davidsonville. You can try them at the Annapolis location, or their second Smashing Grapes location in Gambrills, which should open mid-December.