After 44 years as a slightly stuffy, French-style restaurant nestled in the Rancho Bernardo Inn, and a passing chef “celeb” who moved on to the “Big Apple,” the new AVANT has picked it up and quickly competed to become one of the top dining rooms in north San Diego County.
The new format is a complete 180 from the French style of the old El Bizcocho — which appeared to be the inside of a castle — to a more casual, intimate dining experience with some fascinating turns, created by Executive Chef Nicolas Bour.
He’s a maestro who believes in bright new flavors fresh from the sea, farm and garden, with “contemporary California” being a comfortable label for AVANT’s offerings.
Bour is fond of the concept of a “forward-idea in dining.”
He brings years of study and practice in France to present this evolution of the French method of cuisine to the table.
Two ideas are obviously different: house-made mustards on tap with genuine mustard seeds from France, and charcuterie, a French pork butcher shop station that dishes up such pleasures as: Classic Red Wine and Garlic Salumi, Berkshire Pork Prosciutto and Wild Boar Salami.
It is a “forward idea” in the sense that not many, if any, San Diego fine restaurants are presenting a “charcuterie” approach to set up the palate for the main event.
An array of cheese selections to accompany is impressive, from Ellie’s Vintage blue cheese to aged Bandage Cheddar ($15 to $35).
The wines are treated like royalty at AVANT, artfully selected and added to three types of presentations: from a slick system of tap wines, wines by the glass, and by the bottle from a spectacular wine cellar, impressively on display for diners in a private special events room with a complete kitchen.
Touring the collection with me was Roshan KC, the general manager, a congenial man originally from Tibet.
The tap wines were especially intriguing, resembling beer on tap.
A check of the varietals and names revealed six wines divided equally among reds and whites, with $7 to $9 as the average for a 6-ounce glass (generous) with names like AuBon Climat, J Vineyards, King Estate, Spellbound and Smith & Hook.
A clear leader and in demand at AVANT are the wines from Dierberg on the Central California Coast. This was a relatively unknown winery to me, but their Santa Maria Valley California Pinot Noir 2010 was a standout on the wine list and highly recommended by KC.
Dierberg is playing well in the restaurants of San Diego County. It was the featured wine at a recent Firefly event in Encinitas, and it’s being poured at Vittorio’s wine dinner in Carmel Valley Feb. 27.
I noted it was more a Burgundian-style of Pinot Noir, the kind you find up in Oregon, with higher acidity and an active, sharper flavor profile. Its proximity to the ocean, a loam style earth mix with high drainage and 18 months in oak, underlines the Dierberg style ($44 in most wine shops). The winery advises to drink now, or cellar for up to 10 years.
The winemaker Tyler Thomas, says this about making wine: “My goal is to make wines that please by their compelling nature, when you find yourself both hedonistically and intellectually compelled to go back to the wine over and over again.”
I would add that the same could be said of AVANT.
With a charcuterie and house made mustards from a tap, the surprises continue. In the “starter plate” try the colorful heirloom beet and citrus salad with pumpernickel, green goddess and hibiscus. My entrée in the “large plate” was the Pan Roasted Branzini, a grilled fish entrée with Beluga Lentils, Saffron Clam Nage and Artichoke Barigoule. For reservations, call (858) 675-8550. To explore more, see avantrestaurant.com.
Carruth Cellars Winery in Solana Beach has its fourth annual Barrel Tasting Party Feb. 22 from noon to 6 p.m. Winemakers will be pulling barrels of their best wines; $35 includes eight barrel tastings and a souvenir glass. Phone (858) 876-7027.
Winesellar and Brasserie in Sorrento Valley San Diego, pours medal-winning wines in a walk-about tasting, Feb. 22 from 2 to 5 p.m. Fifteen-plus wines will be poured for $26. Light appetizers. Details at (858) 450-9557
The Escondido Rotary Club presents Coeur de Cuisine benefiting charities, Feb. 23 from 5 to 8 p.m. at the California Center for the Arts in Escondido. Forty chefs and vintners; unreserved seats $125. Reserved and reception $300. For more, call (760) 520-0409.
SDSU’s Extended Studies has Exploring Wine classes, introductory to the Professional Certificate in the Business of Wine. They will take place Mondays beginning Feb. 24 to March 24 from 6 to 9 p.m. Get the full story at (619) 594-1138 or visit neverstoplearning.net/wine.
Il Fornaio Cucina Ialiana on Coronado Island features the Consorzio Vini Di San Marino, wines of passion from Italy, with a four-course special dinner. Cost is $59. Speaker for the evening is Italian wine specialist Dr. Ambrogio Pirovano. RSVP at (619) 437-4911
Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator. His columns can be viewed at tasteofwinetv.com. He is one of the top wine commentators on the web. Reach him at [email protected]