Griping about the high cost of wine in restaurants is a hobby for some people. If there were any money in it, I know a few people who could go pro.
Ed Moore isn't one of those guys. Instead of complaining, he's doing something about it. Grab a table at his bistro, the 3rd Corner, and a bottle of wine sells for retail plus $5. Before you say he's doomed to failure, know this: Moore recently opened a 3rd Corner in Palm Desert, the third outlet of his Southern California restaurant/wine shop in five years.
The 3rd Corner experience isn't for everyone. It's a retail shop that happens to serve food—good food. Tables are scattered around the stacks of wine, and servers spend their spare time tagging bottles with price stickers. I've been to the original, which opened in Ocean Beach in 2006, as well as the Encinitas shop that opened two years later, and I was in geek heaven just roaming the shelves before taking a seat.
It has been a few months since my last visit, and the selection at each outlet changes frequently, but there are usually more than 600 different labels on sale. At the Palm Desert store, right now you might find Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon One Point Five 2007 for $65.35 ($70 suggested retail), MacPhail Pinot Noir Toulouse Vineyard 2007 for $40.60 ($50), Woodward Canyon Artist Series Cabernet 2007 for $35.50 ($49) and super value Zolo Torrontes 2010 at $10.30 ($11).
"People are tired of buying a wine at Costco for 10 bucks and then seeing it for $45 at a restaurant," Moore said. "They're fed up with the markup on wine at restaurants."
The stores maintain a modest stock of older vintage wines, but 90 percent are recent releases. There's no wine list available, except for a page of 20 or so wines by the glass, which is OK by me, since I like to explore and bring the bottle back to the table, where it's opened by the server. Moore's wine philosophy is simple: "We're looking for wines that out-perform at the price point."
The food menu, as you might expect, is wine-friendly, with both whites and reds in mind. You might have grilled fish tacos ($12) at Encinitas, a charcuterie plate ($10) or duck confit with white bean cassoulet ($16) at Ocean Beach and truffle risotto with wild mushrooms ($15) in Palm Desert.
"We're not trying to be the French Laundry or anything like that," Moore said. Maybe so, but I still clearly remember the mahimahi with panko and jalapeño-lime aioli I had a few years ago in Ocean Beach, even though I can no longer recall the name of the saucy Albariño I had with it.
It's tempting to ask, "If 3rd Corner can do this, why can't more restaurants?" But it's more complicated than that. I've known too many chefs, their sacrifices and failures. The high markup on wine is easy profit for some, but a necessity for others.
And yet like many of you, when faced with those markups, I can't always afford to buy the wine that I want with lunch or dinner. There must be other restaurants that have wine pricing policies similar to 3rd Corner. Have others succeeded or failed with similar strategies? Do you think it's a concept that will catch on?
As for 3rd Corner, I'm thinking Moore needs to open an outlet in Northern California. Something a little closer to home, Ed?
Brian Loring — Lompoc, CA — February 16, 2011 12:13pm ET
Dry Creek Vineyard — Healdsburg — February 16, 2011 12:16pm ET
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