Visiting Our Vineyards
Good Food and Good Wine: an Ideal Match at Callawayâ€™s Meritage ' %'#&$ Walking into Meritageâ€™s stylish dining room, surrounded by glass walls that allow expansive views of the surrounding vineyards, we just knew we would have a fabulous dining experienceâ€”and we did. Meritage, which opened its doors in 2008, is Callaway Wineryâ€™s upscale restaurant known for its welcoming ambiance and delicious, fresh, organic dishes. Callaway Winery and Vineyards, founded in 1969 by Ely Callaway, was one of the early wineries in the Temecula Valley Wine Country. The winery has been owned since 2005 by the Lin family from San Diego who are continuing the legacy of excellence that has characterized Callaway since its beginning. Located about 1600 feet above sea level, Callaway has 67 acres planted in vineyards, 17 acres on its tasting room site (where Meritage is located), and another 50 acres planted about two miles away on an additional 245-acre parcel of land owned by the winery. The wineryâ€™s celebrated winemaker, Craig Larson, has been directing winemaking operations at Callaway for almost ten years and his expertise is reflected in the exceptional quality of Callawayâ€™s wines. The winery produces about 13,000 cases of wine a year. All wines are produced from estate-grown grapes (except the champagne) and they continue to win awards for their excellence. Wines are only sold at the winery, through an online store, or at a tasting room in downtown San Diego. Before our lunch, we were welcomed by Jozef Juck, Callawayâ€™s knowledgeable and personable Food and Beverage Director. He introduced us to Meritageâ€™s talented chef, Joshua Diamond, who has been at the restaurant for more than seven years, the last two as Executive Chef. We talked with Chef Josh and learned that his love of preparing good food began at an early age &' ' %!!%% '!&"&%!&'" since he grew up in a cooking %"'&&$%&'$&#$ family. Because he had a brother who was allergic to preservatives, his mother prepared and served whole unprocessed foods in their home, with an emphasis on fresh vegetables. Chef Josh, who also learned from a variety of renown chefs, brings that focus to Meritage. Most of the dishes on Meritageâ€™s imaginative menu have been created by Chef Josh. The menu changes with the seasons and is based on what is fresh and available locally. The winery has its own greenhouse and garden, which supply much of the produce, including a variety of chilis and greens, used in the restaurantâ€™s dishes. There are also citrus, avocado, fig, and pomegranate trees on the property that provide seasonal ingredients.
Almost everything served in the restaurant is made from scratch, including aiolis and mayonnaise, breads, pastas and sauces. Each menu item is matched with a suggested wine pairing from Callawayâ€™s list of award-winning wines. These pairings are selected by the winemaker, the chef, and the owners who try new dishes with the winemakerâ€™s suggested wines. Sometimes tweaks are made to the recipes to make more ideal pairings. The restaurantâ€™s staff members are well educated on the most effective pairings and regularly &'!#'%##&$'%!!&"' '#'#% #&'#&'#&"&$'&$% make recommendations for #!&'%!%%$''%"'$'$&&'&% wines to customers. Now it was time for our lovely five-course lunch that featured Meritageâ€™s new Spring menu, which is creative and appealing. We were first served a refreshing glass of Bella Blanc, a bubby Chardonnay that was the perfect accompaniment to Tempura Style Calamari and Green Beans. We were delighted with the light batter that allowed us to really taste the tender calamari, and the crunchy green beans added a nice contrast. A highlight was dipping the calamari and beans into the chefâ€™s special, house-made, &'&'$!!&"' $'$'&'%"'$% #&"'%# smoked paprika aioli. %"&'%'"&$!' %!%"
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Visiting Our Vineyards
Our next dish was a refreshing, unique Grilled Shrimp and Cactus Salad. The roasted cactus was surprisingly delicious (and good for the digestion according to Chef Josh). In addition to the beautiful huge grilled shrimp from Mexico, the salad included small heirloom tomatoes, onion, cojita cheese and cilantro. The salad was followed by the impressive Ahi Tuna Tartare Tower, topped with a mixture of mango, avocado, soy sauce, citrus wasabi and crĂ¨me fraiche. These flavors all blended together perfectly and enhanced the fresh, melt-in-your-mouth tuna. We spooned the tuna into our mouths with lightly deep-fried, crispy wontons. We savored these dishes with Callawayâ€™s 2015 Viognier, which combines tropical and stone fruit tastes that nicely matched the shrimp and tuna dishes. The highlight of our meal was the Braised Volcano Lamb Shank served on a bed of savory, creamy risotto accented with tarragon and mint. The lamb had been marinated and then seared to preserve the juices before braising in veal stock and red wine. The result was â€œoh so tenderâ€? and still flavorful and juicy. This succulent lamb was perfectly paired with the well-balanced 2014 Reserve Syrah, featuring dark, spicy berry tastes that complemented the rich meat dish. And, of
course, desserts cannot be forgottenâ€”no matter how full you are and I was full. I loved the creamy coffee and Kahlua flavors of the house-made tiramisu; however, there are a variety of other tempting desserts on the menu such as crĂ¨me brulee and cheesecake. Each dayâ€™s menu at Meritage includes specials and one of the specials on the day we were there was Fish â€˜n Chips. We did not try this dish, but the friendly ladies next to us did and they just could not stop exclaiming about it. (They even let us take a photo of their scrumptious lunches.) We loved all the dishes we tried from the Spring menu, but there are so many
Third Annual Rotary Taste of the World Benefit to other enticing dishes that also appealed to us. Chef Josh describes Meritageâ€™s cuisine as farm-to-table California with influences from around the world. You will find hints of Mexico, Spain and France in his culinary creations. Chef Josh says there are certain dishes that are always customer favorites, such as the meatball sandwich and the pear and truffle salad. Dishes catering to a variety of dietary preferences, such as vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free, are also readily available. Chef Josh points out that delicious dishes do not have to be complicated and that one of his goals is to let good ingredients with fresh flavors shine. Meritage is represented at a variety of community events and last year Chef Josh did a cooking show at Disney World, where he prepared diver scallops with oyster mushrooms â€” to rave reviews. And, by the way, all fish served at Meritage is caught in the wild and not farm-raised. In addition to managing the restaurant, Jozef Juck also oversees the more than 100 weddings and other events that take place at Callaway annually. The event venue can handle up to 250 guests and an entire staff works together to provide a wonderful experience. Jozef says he enjoys the challenge of managing food and beverage service for such large groups, while maintaining the quality and consistency of the meals served. No wonder the numbers of weddings and other special events at Callaway continue to grow. Jozef emphasizes that Meritage has distinguished itself among area restaurants because of its variety of fresh innovative dishes, inviting ambiance in a beautiful setting, and personalized attention to service. He points out that Meritage customers tend to be sophisticated diners with high expectations. The restaurantâ€™s goal is to meet and surpass those expectations. Our expectations were certainly surpassed. We will be back. Meritage is open every day for lunch from 11am to 4pm and Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights for dinner until 8pm on Fridays, you can enjoy live music from 5pm to 7pm.
Photos by Todd Montgomery.
wine country resturant