Wednesday, September 17, 2014



Temecula, CA – “You will wind up living in a small town and love it”, was the way my first mother-in-law put my then distant future. I looked at her and said, “I hate small towns. Everyone knows your business.” She finished with “Be that as it may”, a catchall old school phrase that roughly meant ‘mark my words’, another term meaning ‘what I say will come to pass’.

What that woman said to me long ago did come to pass when I came to Murrieta, and to a similar degree, Temecula. As with most people I would think, the things I viewed one way have proved to exist in a different and opposite light. Knowing ‘someone’s business’ means knowing their history and here that also means you are a part of that history. There is a double portion of that in this Zagara Resaturant review. Because of that and my desire to always present a true review, I took along Devin Sanchez to be my food critic.

Zagara, the Italian restaurant, was once an upscale bayou eatery that started life as a spot called Frankie’s, the original upscale Italian restaurant at that location [source: electrician for Palm Plaza’s Dippin Dots]. The Zagara owner is a true Italian whose son recently graduated from college and the most romantic guy I know, having learned English after falling in love with an American singer in his native Italy. I know this because the owner of Zagara, recipient of at least 75 rave yelp reviews and one awesome Google + review [they only had one at the time I checked], is the former owner of The Vault, the original grown from the Footloose days of Temecula when you could hear Christian bands in church basements, get drunk and shit-kick in Old Town, or do a beer run to go burn pallets on a hilltop and smoke weed.

As Temecula matures past the rod run-mud race town into a trendy spot worthy of being located between LA/OC, Riverside, and San Diego urban arenas, Old Town now takes on an ‘after dark’ appeal to locals who don’t own classic cars. As an ex ’69 SS Chevelle owner, I was surprised by this hipper element of night moves. When you enter Zagara you see this Temecula nightlife change doesn’t end with Old Town. The restaurant now features jazz in the bar/lounge side where this night a dark-haired singer belted old classics like God Bless The Child and All Of Me from the wedge shaped stage area for live entertainment. The two women at bar’s end and the tabled party both supplied ample applause at the songs end.

Rejoining my dinner story companion, the drummer from the local group, DaisyCutters, itself a name for a style of bomb used in the false flag Vietnam War, speaks to the sophistication of my friend for an unbiased food review. Devin ordered the Pollo Marsala and I got the Mahi-Mahi Mediterraneo [gluten free]. 

The dinner side seems almost a different location with no direct visibility to the lounge side and the recessed lighting effect [Thanks, Matt]. The intimate but sufficient space had most tables filled with diners enjoying delicious meals like these.

Devin – “Good Marsala. Amazing, really, really good. Completely authentic. The sauce mixed well with all the sides.” On the down side, Devin’s Dr. Pepper turned out to be flat root beer and he thought the bread appetizers should have been more toasty but the dipping sauce was delicious [which I, in a brain fart, left behind from our doggy sack].

Moi – The mahi-mahi was superb, to quote Fat Tony, but it was again the sauce that made everything stand out in taste. Although I don’t normally eat artichokes, capers, tomatoes, and olives, these finely diced veggies had none of their usual taste or consistency. They all got munched equally. In fact, though we could have plowed through din-din, both Devin and I decided a meal this good deserved to be a leftover.

Final analysis, if you’re looking something smooth, a bit sassy, and really delicious, especially during the week, to break the monotony, Zagara is a refined treat with flair you don’t have to go out to a vineyard for. Jazz and great food in the heart of Temecula, behind and to the left of Olive Garden, across from Cosco. 

Buon Appetito!!  

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