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Taste of Wine

A California bistro lives at Hilton Garden Inn

Today I was pondering how many lives were changed by that musical group, The Beach Boys, when they sang  “In the warm California Sun!”

This year, with the weather going from bad to worse in the Midwest and on the East Coast, while we soak in the coastal breezes and temps in the 80s, take a stroll along the Coast Highway and pick out your favorite bistro to settle in for a lovely sunset and a glass or two of a delicious white or red wine, and pat yourself on the back for being one of the chosen ones to enjoy this most beautiful part of America.

The city of Carlsbad is especially endowed with a relaxed, glamorous group of resorts with a sea breeze-friendly environment, easy access and dining at the inviting bar and intimate table arrangements.

California Beach Bistro at the Hilton Garden Inn fits perfectly into this model Southern California lifestyle.

The Executive Chef of Carlsbad’s Hilton Garden Inn, Ricardo Vargas, proudly serves the Local Farm Strawberry Salad with local greens, candied walnuts and goat cheese. Photo by Frank Mangio
The Executive Chef of Carlsbad’s Hilton Garden Inn, Ricardo Vargas, proudly serves the Local Farm Strawberry Salad with local greens, candied walnuts and goat cheese. Photo by Frank Mangio

It was there that I met Executive Chef Ricardo Vargas, who has over 25 years of culinary experience, and has spent more than a year at the Hilton Garden Inn.  His playful, oversized menu, with its share of bold dining surprises has lots of active appetizer lightweight items like green tomato sliders, pacific shrimp and crab cakes.  In the salad column, I went for the Carlsbad Local Farm Strawberry Salad, but you might like the Greek Salad and Quinoa.

In looking at the entrees, I asked Vargas what he would personally choose.

“I’m a beef eater.  We have only Angus beef in a rib eye cut, 10-ounce.  I prepare it in a port reduction sauce, to maximize the flavor,” he said.

With his warm, friendly personality on display, Vargas went on to future plans for the bar and closely knit banquet/family table that can accommodate a large number of guests.  “We want to do lots of food and wine pairing events, and start up a series of cooking classes.  We grow many fresh herbs on the property.  I can’t compete with my grandma and mother for home-style recipes.  They had their own way of doing things, but I have learned to create my own flavor profile through herbs and sauces.”

That same creative level that has made the menu so attractive needs to be achieved in the wine list.  Aside from a surprising Dom Perignon Champagne that went for over $200, the list contained little that fascinated me.  Only 16 wines were offered, plus several sparkling wines.

Most of the names can be found in super markets.  This should change soon to catch up with the creativity driven by the flavorful menu selections.

There are many wine treasures, not so well known, that will build a large following for the perfect combination of coastal food, wine and a relaxed ambience that is California Beach Bistro.  The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch or dinner.  Happy hour is daily from 4 to 7 p.m. See more at

Wine Bytes

Thornton Winery in Temecula presents a Grains & Grapes March 21 at 6:30 p.m.  Refugee Brewery teams up with Thornton for a four-course wine, beer and food extravaganza.  $75. RSVP at (951) 699-0099.

Il Fornaio restaurant in Del Mar has a Michele Chiarlo Italian wine and feast March 24 at 6:30 p.m.  Chef Robert Carboni has included Salmoncino al Forno, included with the Chiarlo 2009 Barolo.  Cost is $55. Call (858) 755-8876.

Vittorio’s in Carmel Valley San Diego has a Foxen Vineyards wine dinner, March 26 at 6 p.m.  Four-courses will be presented with paired Foxen wines.  Coast is $59.50 RSVP at (858) 538-5884.

Cal State San Marcos Tasting Room Management Certificate Program is coming in March. CSUSM has partnered with Sonoma State University Wine Business Institute to videoconference their popular Tasting Room Management Certificate classes to the San Diego audience at the local Cal State San Marcos Campus. There are five courses in March and April. Register at

Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator.  He is one of the leading wine commentators on the web.  View and link up with his columns at  Reach him at and follow him on Facebook. 

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