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Craftsman Tavern in Encinitas is open for dine-in, with tables removed for social distancing. Pictured are Craftsman GM Mike Cusey and Chef Sergio Serrano. Photo by Frank Mangio
Columns Taste of Wine

Taste of Wine: Taking out is good — dining in is better

The restaurant business is difficult at best. You have to be a juggler and psychologist for employees, and possess a sense of what food, prepared properly, will please a fickle public.

In this pandemic atmosphere that we are all involved in, restaurants have been asked to pivot from takeout-only to dine-in based on precise rules from county and state agencies for employees and guests.

The necessary protocols would stress out the most patient of owners and their employees to offer the best possible service to a hesitant public. Many of the restaurants that have opened their doors have limited hours and a reservation is required.

We visited Craftsman Tavern in Encinitas and its talented GM, Mike Cusey, who initially limited his hours to Wednesday through Sunday, 4 to 8 p.m., to gauge how the public would respond to coming back to dine-in while the pandemic’s death toll went past 100,000 nationally, with over 250 deaths in San Diego County. (Craftsman has since opened 4-8 p.m. daily.)

Craftsman chef Sergio Serrano manages 10 entrees plus many other appetizers, flatbreads and burgers, along with a full beverage bar. Food and beverage supplies for dining consumption must be as accurate as possible in the face of not more than 50% capacity.

Other restaurants that have taken care and consideration of diners in presenting dine-in food and wine values include:

Lionfish, modern coastal cuisine at the Pendry hotel in the Gaslamp downtown, 619-738-7200

Vigilucci’s, Italian restaurant group in Carlsbad, 760-434-2500, and Leucadia, 760-634-2365

Morton’s The Steakhouse, downtown San Diego, 619-696-3369

Blade, modern Italian fare in Oceanside, 760-231-1456

Solare Ristorante in Liberty Station. patio dining, 619-270-9670

On the winery side, those with restaurants can open for dining, but wine can only be consumed with food. Tasting rooms will remain closed until further notice. Virtual tastings are still popular with wineries. Orfila in Escondido has a special event Friday, June 5, at 2 p.m. Wines in barrel include a 2019 Syrah and a 2019 Pinot Noir. For details, contact Orfila at 760-738-6500.

Dining in at Fleming’s UTC

According to Operating Partner Marc Clark, “the UTC location was the first Fleming’s location to re-open for dine-in during the pandemic and was being used as a ‘pilot’ to learn and perfect guidelines to ensure  that Fleming’s meets re-opening guidelines for their dine-in customers.”

Fleming’s three-course menu served with filet mignon and cold-water lobster, choice of Caesar or Fleming’s salad, and finished with either carrot cake or New York cheesecake ($60). By Rico Cassoni

One could tell that the Fleming’s team was excited to have customers dining in again and that safety was paramount. All servers wore masks, the number of tables was cut in half and every other booth was closed to ensure proper distance.  Also, bread was served one piece at a time, menus were paper and not reused, pepper was individual use in paper, and hand sanitation stations were available throughout. My wife, Mary, and I felt safe and that Fleming’s had gone above and beyond to ensure safety.

Enough about safety, let’s talk about the dinner!  We both enjoyed Fleming’s three-course menu featuring their filet mignon and sweet cold-water lobster served with a choice of Caesar or Fleming’s salad and finished with carrot cake or New York cheesecake ($60). Of course, we also had to splurge and get some Fleming’s potatoes as well.

Mary paired her dinner with the 2018 Rombauer Chardonnay from Carneros.  This was rich, delicious oaky butter flavor from the Chardonnay complementing the drawn butter for the lobster.

As for me, I went with a Joe Wagner 2017 Quilt Cabernet Sauvignon.  If you’re thinking that Joe is the creator of Meiomi Pinot Noir and son of Caymus’ Chuck Wagner, you would be correct.  As a side note, Quilt wines are blended from nine unique appellations, Howell Mountain to Los Carneros, that Joe orchestrates together creating depth in layers. The Cab was bold red in color with vanilla and a hint of chocolate on the nose and cherry and black fruit on the palate. This paired beautifully with the filet.

Congrats Fleming’s on another wonderful dining experience.  Special thanks to server David and to Marc Clark and the team for all the work required to be one of the first San Diego restaurants reopened for dine-in.

—story by Rico Cassoni


Reach Frank Mangio at

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