Drinking In Ambience at Chanteclair's 'Tastings'

While the after-work social time known as happy hour has been mostly reduced to watery cocktails and an even more diluted entertainment format, the folks at Chanteclair in Irvine have elevated their own version into one of the haute -ist evenings around.

Wine tasting Wednesdays and Fridays lets patrons sample a glass of Chardonnay or Merlot from a featured vineyard, chat beside the fireplace and swing to a live band. Dinner is available at this four-star French restaurant, but it's the action in the garden room, lounge and adjoining patio that has attracted a couple hundred professionals from the local business district and old-money types each Wednesday for the last 18 months. Owners Carol and Martin Lambert added the Friday tastings late last month.

Wine is poured from 5 to 7 p.m. in the garden room (each glass is $3), much of it from state vineyards to complement Chanteclair's traditional French-influenced California menu. The plant-filled indoor room, modeled after a traditional French country terrace, offers a fresh and stimulating ambience for sipping wine and munching on complimentary hors d'oeuvres.

The vittles (vegetables, pastas, chicken wings, chips) are not exactly four-star restaurant cuisine, but they may keep your head a little clearer through two hours of wine "tastings."

The lounge bar also serves well drinks for $3.75, domestic and imported beers ($2.50 and $4.50) and wines at $4.50 to $6 per glass (other than during tasting hours).

Entertainment is provided by the Jerry Lambuth Trio with singer Diane Cruzen. The crowd swells on the parquet floor as the ensemble cranks out hits from the Big Band era and Broadway tunes. Pianist Lambuth will occasionally take over the microphone to sing a pop favorite, sometimes even in Spanish.

It's a testimony to the band that patrons sit out the recorded music that plays during its breaks, resuming their dancing when the group returns.

Chanteclair is an escape from the mostly lowbrow early evening release many restaurants and clubs offer. And it shouldn't cost you a bundle either. There's no cover, and you get three hours of free valet parking.

Patrons, mostly in suits, appear comfortable looking polished; this doesn't mean they're stuffy and formal, though. While most in the crowd are at least fortysomething, younger fans of classic American music should also feel at ease here.

Plus, the French chateau setting, complete with murals of the countryside and chandeliers made of antlers, is a welcome change of scenery in the land of mini-malls.


* 18912 MacArthur Blvd., Newport Beach.

* (714) 752-8001.

* Special happy hours Wednesdays and Fridays from 5 to 10 p.m.

* No cover.

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