On the Line: Mark and Angela Dunton of District Wine, Part One
Learning to appreciate wine is like learning to appreciate anything else. It takes time and an openness to trying new things. I learned that with wine, it's not about what it pairs well with as much as it's about what you like (although the adage about red wine with red meat is spot on). Drink what makes you happy, and ask for advice when needed.
I attended a birthday celebration at District Wine a couple of years ago. Between the generous wine list and small plates, it was only a matter of time before I found the opportunity to interview Mark and Angela Dunton about their business.
Let's discuss your choice to feature small production, boutique wines.
Mark Dunton: There are several reasons why we chose to feature small production boutique wines. First and foremost is that we are a small, family-owned business, and we want to honor and support other small, family-owned operations. Also, a wine bar and tasting room is the perfect platform to feature small name, obscure wines. In our opinion, that is why you go to a wine bar-- to try something that you have never heard of, and hopefully to find a gem that you never thought of trying.
One food you can't live without:
Angela Dunton: Our pea tapenade and our warm roasted bar nuts. I eat it almost every day at work.
Wait-- let's elaborate on those bar nuts and that pork belly grilled cheese.
A.D.: I am proud to say my mom is the mastermind behind the roasted bar nuts, with its sweet, savory and spicy flavor profile. Mark paired it with dark chocolate, and that is how we got the mouthwatering combination. And the pork belly grilled cheese-- I mean, who doesn't like the flavor of melt-in-your-mouth pork enveloped in gooey Manchego and Gruyere?
Favorite places to eat (besides your own):
M.D.: We love to stay local and enjoy The Starling Diner, The Attic, Portfolio Coffee and the new Breakfast Bar (among others).
What is your beverage of choice?
M.D.: If it's not a good glass of champagne or Pinot that I have once the guests have left after a long Saturday night at District, I enjoy a well-aged, 18-year-old Scotch from the 555 [Editor's Note: He's referring to restaurant 555 East] down the street.
Most undervalued beverage:
M.D.: An off-dry Reisling.
How did you come up with the name?
M.D.: District is our way to tip our hat to what makes Long Beach such a unique place to live and work. We love that there are so many unique neighborhoods and "districts" that come together to make a very special city where you can experience a multitude of cultures, experiences and lifestyles. We also live in the East Village Arts District, and wanted to celebrate this great niche within Downtown. The wine portion of the name is a bit more obvious-- it's our main focus and what we do.
Where was your most recent meal?
A.D.: The most recent meal we had together was dinner at home (which is a difficult feat with our late night schedules). I made corned beef, cabbage and potatoes for St. Patrick's Day.
Best culinary tip for the home cook:
A.D.: Make something out of your comfort zone once a month. And crack an egg on a flat surface instead of the side of the bowl.
We recently read that you made a Yelp Top 100 eateries list in the US. How cool is that?
M.D.: It was pretty neat that Yelp put in a mathematical equation and we came out #62 in the nation. And no, we don't, and have never advertised with Yelp. We were honored and humbled that so many people come back, bring new people and even go online to talk about us. Kinda COOL.
Weirdest thing you ever drank:
M.D.: Banana and chocolate flavored beer, to make a banana split beer. It actually tasted like a banana split flat. With a little kick, of course.
Your earliest food memory:
A.D.: My brother and I sitting outside on the deck, in our oldest, most stained clothes, eating fresh pomegranates. I still love the bright flavor, tangy juice and unique crunch of the seeds. Starts California's fall season on the right foot.
Favorite meal growing up:
A.D.: The everything dinner-- My mom would take everything out of the refrigerator: fruits, nuts, cheeses, salami, etc. and we would make our own plates. I think it spawned my love for small plates and shareable tapas. Why just order a meal for yourself when you can sample a little bit of everything?
So, about your daily specials: Do you get a lot of teachers on Tuesdays and a lot of vinyl spinning on Thursdays? How do teachers confirm their profession, and what's the coolest record you heard as of late?
M.D.: Our teacher special is fun because often times teachers are under appreciated for the valuable job they do, and we wanted to do something special for them. We get great teachers (that are verified on the honor system), that can enjoy Happy Hour all night and unwind from the work day.
We spin vinyl all day, every day, but like to open up Thursdays for people to bring in some of their collection to enjoy. It is amazing how many people saved their collection, but have no player to play them. It is always fun to hear the stories that listening to these records evokes in our customers. We hear a lot of great, interesting, and fun new records, but Fleetwood Mac's Rumors still holds a special spot in our hearts.
You're making breakfast; what are you having?
A.D.: Fresh steamed asparagus, farm fresh eggs over easy (from the Tuesday farmers market in Bixby Park) with Parmesan, sea salt and fresh cracked pepper.
Strangest customer request (and did you do it?):
M.D.: We were presented with a heavy death metal record to play on the record player. This request was denied. The heavy metal/wine combo isn't a general crowd-pleaser.
Your best recent beverage find:
M.D.: Four Roses 2013 small batch Bourbon. Made to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the Rose Parade. I had it at the Blind Donkey in Pasadena.
Since you opened in 2010, has the demand for beer increased?
M.D.: Yes, craft beers have definitely increased, along with the demand for more high-end wine and food, too.
Do you recall the first glass of wine you tried?
A.D.: Sadly, I do. An overly sweet white Zinfandel. Later on, I took my first wine tasting trip to Los Olivos and fell in love with Rhone blends and Syrah.
District Wine is located at 144 Linden Ave, Long Beach, (562) 612-0411; www.districtwine.com.