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Molly's Restaurant: Where to find the perfect pair

"Red or white?" That is the question many diners are posed when choosing wines for dinner. The rules have changed, though. Now red is often imbibed with fish dishes and white with meats.

But the staff at Molly's Restaurant & Wine Bar, located at the harbor Marriott, has put a whole new sophisticated spin on wine selections and pairings. Under the direction of Lisa Redwine, the restaurant's manager and hotel sommelier, a wine list has been compiled that offers a marvelous breadth of choices, including some exceptional wines that are "exclusive" to her. She is talented, a graduate of the CIA, who spent most of her working life in the restaurant industry until she shifted to "the front of the house" and gained expertise with wines.

"In France, one does not begin their evening without looking at the wine list. The beginning of the dining experience is marked with an aperitif. In keeping with this tradition, I have created a selection for you to choose from, using new American innovations from old world traditions," Redwine said. There are four aperitifs on the menu but her "special" one -- The Boa -- combining domaine carneros sparkling, elysium black muscat, aqua perfecta raspberry liqueur in a tall glass -- is perfect to sip while studying the menu and wine list.

The restaurant is named after one of Doug Manchester's daughters. He was the developer of the beautiful, curved, landmark hotel property and often names his restaurants after his children. Before entering the restaurant, one could venture outside to view a Hawaii-like scene, complete with a pond of giant koi who flock toward people at the standing at the side, hoping to get fed.

The restaurant itself is refined looking, very chic. Many of the tables are set in booths topped with glass to create privacy but retain a sense of openness.

Molly's has a new chef, Timothy Au, who joined last September and quickly revamped the seasonal menu to reflect his individual style in "New American Cuisine." He trained under such well-known chefs as Bradley Ogden, Susan Feniger and Master Chef Knut Aspitz. He worked at Fio's Cucina Italiano before moving to San Francisco. Among the restaurants there, he served as executive chef at The Sherman House Hotel, a four-star, luxury Relais & Chateaux property. He also spent four years as chef de cuisine of A.R. Valentien at The Lodge at Torrey Pines.

Au focuses on freshness, using featuring farm-fresh, artisan grown products from small local and regional farms to create simple but flavorful dishes. "The Bibb lettuce you're enjoying this evening was still in the ground this morning. Chef Au is at the farms daily to find the best produce. He takes 'freshness' very seriously," Redwine said. "Everything is made from scratch here, using nothing but the finest ingredients."

I put myself into Redwine's hands for wine pairing and was well-rewarded for my confidence. An amuse of crabcakes with asparagus was paired with an Austrian Gruner Veltliner, an exceptionally food-friendly wine, perfect for setting up the palate for more. The wine really added to the wonderful flavor of the crab.

Maine Lobster Canneloni, one of Chef Au's unique dishes, wraps the lobster in leek leaves instead of pasta. The lobster was fresh, paired with a pinot blanc from Oregon.

The "Forbidden Torchon" of foie gras, with savory red wine poached pear, was probably forbidden by my cardiologist, but was absolutely delicious spread on parmigain crusted strips, paired with a red French Clos Chatart whose fruity flavor and cherry finish was the perfect touch.

My favorite dish was the Day Boat Divers Scallops, with roasted forest mushrooms, truffle and melted leek mashed potato. The scallops were so tender and tasty on the inside, yet crisp and firm on their surface. It was paired with a French Domaine des Tours, with a sensational peppery taste that melded so well.

For dessert, one may choose a selection of artisan cheeses or a dramatic Bananas Foster that is flambéed tableside. The flash of fire and the sweet aroma is only the beginning of the pleasure.

Dining at Molly's is an experience, an event. Dining at this consistently Four Diamond Award winner is sophisticated, calculated to delight and impress. The ambiance, extraordinary service, outstanding cuisine and knowledgeable wine pairing will make any dinner at Molly's most memorable. The best strategy: Forget the calories and the cost. Got friends? Try the Chef's Table and develop a menu to suit your pleasure. Put yourself at the care of the staff and sit back to enjoy.

Molly's Restaurant & Wine Bar is in the Marriott, near the Convention Center. Three-hour parking is validated. Call (619) 230-8909 for reservations.


Rottenberg is editor of Dining San Diego Magazine and member of the California Restaurant Writers Association. Send comments to the editor@sddt.com. All letters are forwarded to the author and may be used as Letters to the Editor.

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