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For the very label conscious

January 10, 2007|Corie Brown

YOU'RE crazy about the wine you just had with dinner. So when the sommelier pours the last glass from the bottle, you scramble for a pen and paper to take note of the producer and vintage. Next time you're at the wine store, you'll surely have forgotten both.

You could, however, take the label with you. It's a dining souvenir that few people realize is theirs for the asking.

Better restaurants consider removing wine labels a part of the wine service that continues after the bottle is empty. Just tell the sommelier you'd like to remember the bottle and ask for the label.

A sharp sommelier will present the label in an envelope with the restaurant's letterhead, noting the date of the meal.

Hotel restaurants including the Ritz-Carlton in Marina del Rey know the drill, and so do the city's leading dining rooms, including Patina at Disney Hall and Campanile on La Brea.

"It's a nice memento from a celebration," says Tom Dries, a manager at Ortolan in West Hollywood. And it's a lot more convenient than schlepping home a drippy empty bottle.

But you have to know to ask for it. Removing wine labels takes time. Restaurants may be willing to do it, but they don't advertise the service.

How do they do it? Soaking is the traditional method of removing labels. Sommeliers at the Peninsula Hotel's Belvedere soak bottles in warm, soapy water for 20 minutes, then carefully remove the label, blotting it dry with a napkin. According to sommeliers, the labels dry quickly.

Servers at Jer-ne in the Ritz-Carlton at Marina del Rey eschew the soap and soak them in really hot water for 15 minutes.

At Lucques and A.O.C., co-owner and wine director Caroline Styne lets a wine bottle sit in clean, warm water just long enough to allow her to carefully peel off the label.

Whatever the soaking ritual, when the glue dissolves, the label slides off. Except, of course, when the glue doesn't dissolve.

At Drago in Santa Monica, manager Silvio Cicconi says it's not easy to remove labels. He's soaked bottles for more than half an hour and still had the label stuck firmly to the bottle.

Increasingly, restaurants are using a system that rips off the printed layer of the label using an adhesive sheet. It works 9 times out of 10, says Sona sommelier Mark Mendoza.

That's a better average than soaking, says David Haskell, owner of Bin 8945 in West Hollywood, who along with the soms at Campanile, Patina and Grace swears by a version of this system called Labeloff. (If you want to try it at home, the system costs less than $1 a label at www.labeloff.com.)

If your label's the 1 in 10 that doesn't come off? You're out a souvenir, but you can still scribble down that wine name.

Corie Brown

*

Small bites

* News from what we now have to call the Culver City restaurant district. Just opened: a "wine-tasting lounge" called Vinum Populi, where 1-ounce tastes of 48 Spanish and Italian wines are dispensed from four Enomatic machines imported by owner Miguel Garza from Chianti. The machines are like wine ATMs: Prices per ounce are digitally displayed; insert a prepaid card, press a button and out comes your vino. Meanwhile, Ben Ford has hired former Norman's chef Mike Bryant as chef de cuisine of Ford's Filling Station, and he also has teamed with restaurateur Brad Johnson to open a "burger, beer and bar concept" in the Fairfax district.

Vinum Populi, 3865 Cardiff Ave., Culver City, (310) 204-5645; Ford's Filling Station, 9531 Culver Blvd., Culver City, (310) 202-1470.

* Downtown, Water Grill executive chef David LeFevre has tapped John Park, formerly of Jer-ne at the Ritz-Carlton Marina del Rey and Providence, as pastry chef. New on the menu are desserts such as doughnuts with coffee pot de creme and lemon-lavender creme brulee.

Water Grill, 544 S. Grand St., L.A., (213) 891-0900.

* Remember waiting in line at Campanile for grilled cheese night? Campanile is offering grilled cheese night at home -- they bring all the ingredients to you and make the sandwiches at your party or event. If you want the less familiar, Opus chef Josef Centeno is offering "baco" night on Tuesdays; they're his version of tacos, house-made flatbread with fillings such as duck confit and quince aioli or pork belly and short rib carnitas. Plus ice cream sandwiches.

Campanile, 624 S. La Brea Ave., L.A., (323) 938-1447; Opus, 3760 Wilshire Blvd., L.A., (213) 738-1600.

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