Aimee Arcilla of SF’s Californios on Tokaji with Aztec Desserts

After eight months as a captain at Californios, Aimee Arcilla began to work directly with the restaurant’s owner and beverage director Charlotte Randolph. The experience marks a major career change for Arcilla, who’d been focused on the Bay Area’s tech sector before joining the haut-Mexican dining room in San Francisco’s Mission. She’s now helping Randolph build out the 550 selections on the wine list, expanding from Californios’ depth in French wine to delve into Chile, Mendoza and Mexico.

You noted that the menu prices are up this past year, while wine prices remain steady.
Our menu, in terms of quality of ingredients, has risen. We’re doing table-side caviar, beautiful desserts. And we’ve expanded as a team. When I came on, we were 16, and now we’re 20, so we’re able to increase the amount of food we offer. When I came the menu was 16 or 18 courses; now we’re at 23. People have the money— our numbers have steadily increased with our current menu price and our pairings. In terms of pairings sold, year to year, we’re 20 to 30 percent higher this January than last.

A local zin is the top-selling bottle…
We get a lot of international diners and most would rather drink local wines. We have a great relationship with the Rafanelli team. In addition to their zinfandel, we had Rafanelli cabernet as part of our pairings and it just flew off the shelf. Guests love being close to their food and the wine—when we’re pairing that cabernet with Mindful Meat beef and saying how these two different products come from within a sixty-mile range of each other, people gravitate to the fact that the pairing is local.

And yet your most popular wine by the glass is a Portuguese sparkling.
We were pouring Filipa Pato’s Brut 3B Rosé. We offered it by the glass and people were buying bottles. It’s mineral driven, fresh, like a great strawberry soda with a clink of that soda-can minerality, so it works with a lot of our bright winter-citrus seafood courses. And it can cut the richness of the moles and the sauces. It’s really easy across the board.

Where does Tokaj fit in the universe of your Mexican menu?
Chef Val likes to bring a lot of the Aztec and Mayan influences, [referencing] the gods and how they would conduct their lavish dinners. Our last course is a drawn-out, complex dessert, and it ends with a grand presentation of bon bons, chocolate, cacao beans, raw cacao and raw honey. We pair that with Tokaji (Patricius 5 Puttonyos); it comes in during the second of the four main dessert courses—a sweet tostada with grapefruit curd and an oolong gelée. The people keep the Tokaji to finish out the dessert courses. It works with the citrus that ties up the winter season. Sometimes, I will pour guests a little Madeira—we’ve been pouring the Terrantez 1988 from D’Oliveiras. Or we’ll serve the Truffle Taco with their Bual from 1992.

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