Those who remember the tomblike decor and the sanctum sanctorum atmosphere that pervaded the old Gustaf Anders in La Jolla--and those who still wince when they recall buying at the former restaurant a bottle of wine, any wine--will be shocked and pleased to learn that in its new incarnation in South Coast Plaza Village, Gustaf Anders is a bargain.
"We're not as formal as we were, and because we're paying a fair rent, we can offer much lower prices for the wine," said co-owner Bill (Gustaf) Magnuson recently. "Frankly, I think everyone is getting tired of paying $30 to $35 for a good bottle of Chardonnay, and $7 for a glass. We don't want to ruin anyone's pocketbook."
At the La Jolla location, French Burgundy was a Gustaf Anders specialty. But because of the rent ($24,000 per month), prices for wine were roughly 3 to 3 1/2 times wholesale.
"I used to be able to drink good French Burgundies at reasonable prices, but we had to stay in business (in La Jolla), so the prices were higher. Now, prices for French Burgundies are so high that we've decided to stick more to California wines."
The pricing policy is extraordinarily reasonable: twice to 2 1/2 times the wholesale price, and a few wines are below double. Thus, of the 100 wines offered, I can't select a best value, either white or red, because there are so many.
Examples: 1986 Freemark Abbey Chardonnay, $20; 1987 Dry Creek Chardonnay, $18; 1987 Silverado Chardonnay, $18; 1985 Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon, $22; 1987 Hanna Sauvignon Blanc, $16.
Because the restaurant is new, most vintages are current, meaning that there is precious little in the way of older red wine. The best older wine is a bottle of 1975 Chateau Margaux at $150. (A wine shop in New York recently offered this wine at $125, retail.) The bottle is left over from the La Jolla location's cellar.
However, if you would like to bring in your older wine, corkage (officially $10 for wines not on the wine list) is flexible. With a wine you have cellared for a time, bring it in, give Gustaf a sip and he usually waives the fee.
And as time goes by, Magnuson vows, he will keep some of the current wines, so in years to come there will be older vintages available.
Other bonuses: The glassware is tall, thin-stemmed tulips. White wines are brought to the table cool, not frozen (these guys have been in business before). And there are two dozen wines by the glass, including such bargains as 1986 Stag's Leap Cabernet ($6), 1985 Belvedere Robert Young Merlot ($4.50), 1987 St. Andrews Chardonnay ($3.50) and 1987 Quady Essencia ($3). Seven dessert wines are also offered.
The staff was delightfully friendly, knowledgeable about the food and wine and did everything to near perfection.
A few suggestions on the wines:
--For those who have wanted to try the superb A. Salon Champagne (which sells at retail for $100 a bottle) in a restaurant, here it is a mere $110.
--An excellent red wine for the price is the 1985 Jordan Cabernet, which sells for $20 a bottle at retail shops. Here it is just $28.
--One of the sleepers on the white wine list is the beautifully made 1988 Chardonnay from Hart Vineyards in Temecula. Wine-maker Travis Hart has the smallest winery in the Temecula region, but he makes the broadest line of top-quality wines; this one has already gotten a gold medal. And the price at Gustaf Anders is a mere $15.
--For a treat, try the 1986 Lakespring Merlot ($18), a luscious wine with marvelous flavor. Retail is $12.25.