When SeaLegs Wine Bar opened in Huntington Beach four years ago, the menu was short and sweet. There were only a handful of dishes, including mac and cheese, braised-chicken tacos, and the obligatory cheese board. Though nothing cost more than $15, you couldn't really call any of it a meal. It was just as well: The food seemed to be there as ballast for the wine, of which there was plenty.
The entire back wall of the bar is a floor-to-ceiling, glass-encased shelf, the kind for which a ladder is necessary to access half of the more than 2,000 bottles in the restaurant's collection. But as the place quickly became a haven for social drinkers who'd rather swirl their alcohol in a goblet than pound it down from a mug or shot glass, the food menu by Alexander Dale also grew larger and more elaborate.
A wagyu beef, pork and veal meatball simmered in a San Marzano tomato marinara and draped in gooey burrata cheese joined the bruschetta and the "stinky" cheese-covered fries. The sausage sliders were upgraded to Angus beef patties with crumbles of bleu cheese and crisp-edged buns toasted in butter. And there was now a papaya-gastrique-smeared flatbread with prosciutto, bacon and figs. There were full-fledged entrées, too, including a flat-iron steak and a $30 filet mignon.
Then, at some point, SeaLegs started opening for brunch and found its true calling. If you thought the echo-y acoustics made it hard to hear the person across from you on a Friday night, just try having a conversation here on a Saturday morning, when large parties converge upon the place to celebrate baby and bridal showers with balloons and party favors. Brunch time has now become prime time for the restaurant.
Its popularity during this time may have less to do with the omelets, which taste more like frittatas, and more to do with the prospect of endless $15 mimosas. Most important of all is the side room that owner (and former Weekling) Alicia Whitney has decorated as though it's ready for a Martha Stewart Living cover photoshoot. She's appointed the spacious alcove with comfy couches, side chairs and pastel colors, making it catnip for females who might not care that the chilaquiles can sometimes come off a bit dry so long as the flutes of orange-juice-flavored champagne keep coming.
Rather than the mimosa, I'd argue that the better way to get weekend-morning drunk is the Instant Breakfast mason jar, which is as potent at 10 a.m. as a Long Island Iced Tea is at 10 p.m. After I sucked up the last few dregs of the iced mixture of vodka, Kahlua and house-made Irish cream, the boating-themed room started to sway as though I was actually on a boat.
Dinner, though, is still my favorite time to go to SeaLegs. Most of the tapas-sized plates do, in fact, go well with wine. Some dishes, such as the castanet-sized clams coated in spicy red chorizo grease, require it. And if you're a wine novice, the waitresses, most of whom look as if they're just a few years older than legal drinking age, can quickly recommend a varietal appropriate for any dish. What's most refreshing is they'll do it without much fuss or any attempts at upselling.
I asked our server what would pair well with the Coca-Cola-braised pork shank served over a purée of parsnip and apple. She pointed to the True Myth, one of the cheaper cabs. And she was right: In my mouth, every swig of that wine seemed to dance with every forkful of the sweet-tasting meat. And if I'd requested a recommendation for the garlic shrimp that comes swimming in an inch of olive oil, I'm sure she would've guided me to a perfect wine that wouldn't have cost more than the dish itself.
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If you've already figured out that a few glasses at dinner can get costly quick, the best time to come to SeaLegs is during happy hour, when a modest selection of basic dishes are offered for $5, but also the house wines. It was then that I discovered that Chardonnay and corn dog bites are a natural match—especially SeaLegs' version, which uses not a hot dog, but a thick, meaty sausage that's probably knackwurst. It is, however, best to enjoy this revelation at SeaLegs, since Wienerschnitzel hasn't yet realized the potential and doesn't take kindly to people bringing in bottles of Two-Buck Chuck.
SeaLegs Wine Bar, 21022 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach, (714) 536-5700; www.sealegswinebar.com. Open Mon.-Fri., 4-11:30 p.m.; Sat., 10 a.m.-11:30 p.m.; Sun., 10 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Daily happy hour, 4-6 p.m.; brunch, Sat.-Sun., 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Dinner for two, $50-$75, food only. Full bar.