At the Loft Wine Bar & Restaurant in downtown Benicia, you can watch your server light a pan of kefalograviera cheese on fire, then devour the melted, gooey goodness in between sips of Smith Devereux chardonnay. You won’t regret this. It’s a small thrill to see something flaming at your table, and the indulgence of fried cheese—a Greek dish called Saganaki—is worth it, especially on a winter evening with a chill in the air.
The Saganaki is a nod to the Greek heritage of Jason Diavatis, who opened The Loft in 2012. A Benicia native, Diavatis recalls trying wine for the first time at age 10 or 11 while spending a summer in Greece with relatives. As an adult, he started DJing, which led to work in event planning and design. Eventually he became involved with the National Association of Catering Executives in San Francisco. “That gave me a different level of experience,” he says. “I got to travel all over the country experiencing food and wine. The best wine was here.”
The Loft features a full food menu, with Chef Eric Parada creating an eclectic range of dishes using fresh, simple ingredients. You’ll find starters like the Saganaki and Baked Brie en Croute, and salads like Roasted Beet with goat cheese and candied pecans. The meat-forward sandwich options include Tri Tip Sliders and BBQ Chicken Pita, while the flatbreads range from Prosciutto and Blue Cheese to a basic Margherita. Pasta, too, is prominent, with six fettuccine dishes, including Shrimp Alfredo and Bolognese.
“Having excellent food is incredibly important,” says Diavatis, who points to entree dishes like The Beef Wellington and Roasted Lamp Chops as customer favorites. While the menu doesn’t stand out as particularly innovative, its classic flavors are comforting in their familiarity. The dishes offer a solid compliment to the thoughtfully-curated wine list, which focuses on hard-to-find wines from Napa and Sonoma. For $20, you can sample a flight of five. (Try the bold, slightly spicy Scout’s Honor Red Blend, from Napa’s Venge Vineyards, if you get the chance.)
Hidden behind a black velvet curtain to the right of the bar is Diavitis’ more recent experiment: The Office Speakeasy & Piano Lounge. With seating for 18, it’s a dark, intimate throwback to prohibition-era watering holes, complete with a 1902 player piano that bangs out ragtime jazz. “It’s about creating an experience,” says Diavatis. “People feel like they’re going back in time.”
To meet the “cocktail attire” dress code at The Office, don’t hesitate to don a flapper dress, feathered headband, or suit and suspenders: you’ll fit right in. With the same food menu as The Loft, plus a vast selection of premium spirits—including four kinds of absinthe—and every cocktail you can imagine, this is a go-to spot for dates and group celebrations.
The Loft is open Wednesday through Sunday; The Office is open Friday and Saturday evenings (reservations encouraged) and for private events. “We have a European sense of hospitality,” says Diavatis. “People who come here are like guests in our home—we make them feel comfortable.”
280 1st St, Benicia