Halloween Guide
Related Articles: Restaurants, All

Pauline's Wines

Bringing House Wine Back

When dining in France, Italy or Spain, the house wine can be ordered with confidence for just a smattering of Euros. Here, in our own great wine-producing region, even locally grown juice comes at a great premium, and no self-respecting diner would deign to order a house wine lest they be served a glass of grocery store-grade plonk.

Pauline's, the popular Mission pizzeria, has long been known for its quality Pizza Red, and the eatery is showcasing it with a newly opened wine bar serving Oeno-friendly edibles beyond the pie.

Little draws the eye to the new space; just a small sign perched over a warehouse-grade roll-up door on the Brosnan Alley side of the building that houses the mother restaurant. But behind the industrial door, the bar occupies a surprisingly large space with a bar and ample table seating for small and large groups.

All this sits adjacent to a small kitchen with a pizza oven that turns out small plates served in classic tapas terra cotta.

There's no table service; order everything at the bar, and it's brought to your table as itís ready, sometimes in a deluge. As with the mother ship, the daily menu is neatly scribed in colored lettering on a chalkboard. The dishes are designed to be wine-friendly and seasonal, and many of the ingredients come from the restaurant's own farm.

One such dish was a definite highlight in our visit. Italian and Rosa Bianca eggplants stuffed with San Marzano tomatoes ($6) were roasted until soft and perfumed, then complemented with a bright, acidic crudo of cherry tomatoes and Napolitano basil.

The roasted corno di toro peppers' ($7) intense sweetness was offset with a creamy feta to great effect. A hardy braised Red Russian kale ($8) sat aside a cool, creamy potato salad infused with a haunting note from lemon verbena. In this dish, both items were delicious, but had little to do with each other: two strangers not sharing a common language.

Meat is well represented, too. Spicy Merguez sausages ($9) played nicely with a not-too-sweet cherry-peach chutney, and a petit muffuletta sandwich ($8) offered a small taste of the Big Easy. Of course there's pizza (all $11): 8-inch rounds using Pauline's classic dough. On our visit, a margherita-like creation with sungold tomatoes, basil, and provolone; and another of costata squash, lemon verbena, and shallots. Both had bold, summery flavors, though occasional mouthfuls of verbena had were overpowering.

The wine list is small, approachable, and tends toward bolder, pizza-friendly wines. Not least of these are Pauline's own house vintages, made from grapes grown at the restaurantís ranch in Calaveras County. The simply named Pizza Red, a.k.a. Merlin ($24), is a fruit-forward Merlot-Zinfandel blend that is perfectly quaffable. Half-bottles of the Grenache blend ($13) are equally value-driven.

Desserts were a letdown. The nightly special, a wine-poached pear stuffed with mascarpone and quince paste with reduced wine sauce ($8) was good enough, but somewhat puny. A heavy hand with salt rendered the butterscotch pudding ($8) simply inedible.

With all the plates so reasonably priced and all tax included, it's easy to nibble your way through the entire menu. But as is often the case, many small plates can turn into one big bill. Still, if you just want to share a nosh with a friend over a decent vino, even just a simple bar mix of toasted chickpeas, pepitas, and sunflower seeds ($2), you can certainly do so in casual serenity without breaking the bank.