While Pasadena may still have its work cut out as a food destination, it definitely has carved out a nice niche in the wine sector, with a slew of wine tasting rooms, stores, bars and restaurants surrounding Old Town and the Lake Shopping District. Just when I thought the market may be fully saturated, in comes another place to learn, taste and appreciate the millenia old beverage.
When I asked co-owner Lev Gerstik what compelled him to open a wine bar in this (already pretty wine-filled) district, he simply replied "There's nothing else like this place" noting that the other Pasadena wine offerings are more like restaurants than a wine bar, or wine stores with a tasting room. Indeed, based on the offerings it does offer an experience unlike a wine store or a wine-focused restaurant, with wines described in careful details, a pretty knowledgeable staff, a cozy-chic urban vibe (custom woodwork furniture, concrete walls with projected artwork and loungey music) and a rather small-and-tight menu of wine-friendly foods (cheese and charcuterie, mini open-faced sandwiches.)
Another notable aspect of Wine Detective is its Enomatic wine machines, featuring approximately 50 wines available by the taste (1 oz. pours) for $2-9 each (most of the wines in their selection are around $3-4 when I went.) Of course, you can also get the wines by the glass (5 oz. for price of 4) and by the bottle too. It was definitely a fun way to try out and compare different wines, but I imagined it can certainly run up a bill quite fast too, especially for those curious about the pricier options. But hey, it's great to know that I can taste a little bit of the expensive stuff before dropping a serious chunk of change to commit to a bottle.
But for more affordable drinking, I'm digging their Happy Hour (Monday to Friday from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.) with house wines for $5 and 25% off entire food menu. Gourmet Pigs and I had the chance to check out a few of their items, extra-special tastes there include the buffalo mozzarella and roasted tomato pintxo and the duck trio plate (duck proscuitto, duck salami and gelee-topped-foie gras mousse,) I'm particularly surprised that the salami and proscuitto from a fowl tasted better than the pork variants, which I attribute to its fattier texture and being less salty than usual. In any case, it definitely leaves me optimistic for the rest of their wine-friendly snacky menu, and for those looking for heartier fare -- there's always The Counter Burger right across the street!
Overall, I had a nice experience at the Wine Detective, and I really think it has appeal for both casual wine sippers and the serious oenophile, without being intimidating for the former or willy-nilly-whatever with the latter. And as someone who likes to comparison shop, it never hurts to have another option so close to home.
What Do Others Say?
- My tasting partner in crime loved it, and "not only could I walk home after drinking wine, they also offer a 10% discount for those with Caltech or JPL ID!"
- Mattatouille liked the "Enomatic system that'll delight everyone from novices to connoisseurs."
- Pasadena Now observed that "a lot of thought and care is put into the choosing of the wine and the food."
- Hometown Pasadena declares it a "fine addition to Pasadena's wine community and café culture"
The Wine Detective
146 S. Lake Ave, #109,
Pasadena CA 91101