Taste of Wine

A Mexico City experience in Old Town San Diego

Alberto Mondragon is the general manager at El Agave Restaurant in Old Town San Diego. Photos by Frank MangioA margarita like the “Perfect Cadillac,” shown above, is a popular mix with tequila.  Tequila tasting should include, right to left: Blanco, Reposata and Anejo.  On the far right, a “tomato juice chaser.”

As wine is the ultimate beverage in France, Italy and the California coast, tequila is the national drink that creates the most pride for most Mexicans.

Given that the culture of this adjoining country’s dining and beverage preferences are closely aligned with San Diego and especially the Old Town District, I agreed to visit an intimate, living room style dining location with roots in Mexico City, El Agave Restaurant & Tequileria.

I’ve lost count of the number of Mexican style restaurants in Old Town.

El Agave is the only Mexico City inspired menu in the district, and it has the largest tequila collection in the U.S. — boasting 2,000 bottles.

Within this tasteful, rustic atmosphere, General Manager Alberto Mondragon, an articulate spokesman for the trophy-like tequila collection, spoke reverently about the quality and high standards of fine tequila spirits.

Agave is the cactus plant that the juices are extracted from, before careful preparation, fermentation and barrel aging begin, similar to a fine wine.

Mondragon proudly held up a 5-liter bottle

of El Agave Anejo, a tequila aged for two years in a single barrel, while he explained that “tequila basically provides the consumer with a happy feeling, and can be served mixed such as in a Margarita, or by itself.  It does not depress the senses if consumed in moderation.  We suggest a high quality tequila with a minimum two years aging.”

Tequila can get expensive. An 1800 Collection by Cuevo has a price tag of $2,500.

Two chefs manage the menu at El Agave:  Julio Obando crafts the sauces and accents and Mario Montes is the chef in charge of the delicious dishes offered. Wines are in abundance at the bar and are predominately Spanish, like Tempranillo, and Mexican, like the Guadalupe Valley district.

Although tacos and enchiladas are on a lunch menu, dinner is gourmet Mexico City, with mole and chipotle sauces complimenting pork, chicken fish and beef dishes.  For the true expression of these dishes, try the Medallones Portal, grilled filet mignon medallions and Portobello mushrooms, served in a delicate mixture of mustard and chipotle sauces.

El Agave opened in 1996 as a true Mexico City classy restaurant. It continues that tradition today.  Visit at elagave.com, or call for a table at (619) 220-0692.

Frank and Harry’s on a

Night to Remember

Frank Family wines of Napa Valley and Harry’s Bar & American Grill of La Jolla were in tune for food and wine parings a few weeks ago.  Frank, founded in the early 90’s by Disney Executive Rich Frank has a winery in the historic Larkmead area near Calistoga. His sought-after Winston Hill Vineyard Cabernet has rich and concentrated wines.

Harry’s Bar & American Grille is upscale and European urban, primarily catering to the business and shopping customer, and is located across from University Towne Center. On this night, Chef Alex prepared a five-course elegant presentation paired with top selections from Frank Family. The main entrée, Wild Boar tenderloin, was paired with a Frank Family 2011 Rutheford Reserve Cabernet ($85). For New Year’s and other lunch and dinner reservations contact Harry’s at (858) 373-1252.


Wine Bytes (All New Year’s Eve Edition)

Dolce Pane Y Vino in Rancho Santa Fe has dining from 5 to 9 p.m. then the merriment continues with dance floor and disco, fog machine, hors d’oeuvres and Brut Rose Champagne to toast in the New Year.  $75. Reservations at (858) 312-1518.

At Amaya in the Grand Del Mar Resort, Dinner from 5 to 10 p.m. with a four-course dinner, then entrance to the Grand New Year’s Eve party.  All for $195; $255 with wine pairings.  RSVP at (858) 314-1996.

Solare Restorante in the Pt. Loma district of San Diego has a five-course dinner and party.  Costs range from $59 for 4:30 to 6:45 p.m., $79 from 7 p.m., that includes the party that night, until 2 a.m. Details at (619) 270-9670.

Chandler’s at the Hilton Beachfront in Carlsbad has a three-course dinner from 4:30 to 10 p.m. Many choices per entrée, with first seating from 4:30 to 6 p.m.  Cost is $50; $65 with wines; a second seating from 6:30 to 10 p.m. is $75; $115 with wines and includes a welcome glass of champagne and amuse bouche.  Reservations (760) 683-5500.

TWENTY/20 in the Carlsbad Sheraton is offering an intimate and superb four-course menu with two seating options available. The first begins at 6 to 6:30 p.m. is $70, and the second from 8 to 9 p.m. is $85. Both have complimentary champagne toast at midnight.  Guests are invited to party on the heated TWENTY/20 Terrace, starting at 9 p.m. with DJ entertainment.  Dining reservations at (760) 827-2500.

Capri Blu in Rancho Bernardo has a special four-course set menu at $59, including free champagne toast.  Live music from 4 to 10 p.m., DJ Alex from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.  Dinner reservations will be taken for 4, 6, 8 and 10 p.m. by calling (858) 673-5100.


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 tasteofwinetv.com.  Reach him at mangiompc@aol.com, and follow him on Facebook.