Avant at Rancho Bernardo Inn focuses on socialization, vegetables
By Elizabeth Marie Himchak
With the opening of Avant, a new era in dining has begun at the 50-year-old Rancho Bernardo Inn.
The new restaurant that opened on June 24 is designed to have a much more laid back atmosphere than its predecessor, El Bizcocho, but it still provides an upscale dining option to locals and visitors and is more family-friendly.
The 44-year-old El Bizcocho closed last fall so $2.5 million in renovations could occur. While the 6,500-square-foot restaurant remains the same size, instead of having a large dining room, Avant has smaller indoor and outdoor spaces that include a 139-seat charcuterie bar, lounge, patio and multiple dining rooms including two private areas to meet the needs of parties of up to 50 individuals.
In addition, the kitchen is viewable so guests have the option of seeing food prepared, interacting with the chefs plus attending special cooking demonstrations, and they can enter the wine cellar instead of just selecting vintages from a list.
“We’re bringing the back of the house experience to the front,” said Executive Chef Nicolas Bour, who has cooked for Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush — the latter had Bour fly out to Texas — and dignitaries from around the world.
He said the menu he designed reflects the restaurant’s ambiance that encourages socialization.
“We want it to be more social than El Bizcocho,” Bour said, explaining that in lieu of a meal presented on a large plate, food is served in small portions on small plates so guests can order several varieties and share among those at their table.
“We’re focusing on vegetables with proteins as a garnish,” Bour said. “Most places do that vice versa. You see, we love our vegetables and we grow a lot … on our property.”
This includes squash, tomatoes, lettuce, green beans and herbs.
“I started the garden when I took the job (three years ago),” Bour said. “There was just a small herb garden, but this adds convenience and more appeal to the guests and whenever I need (an ingredient) I can walk (to pick it). All the vegetables are ultra fresh.”
Bour said the latter is true whether grown on site or purchased from a San Diego County or Southern California farm. The freshness is evident in the taste, he added.
He said the focus on light dishes is due to his goal of creating healthy meals. “Not everything … has to be made in cream and butter,” Bour said. “It is good not to over manipulate ingredients.”
Another unique feature is the mustard on tap, where guests can buy a custom-made earthenware mustard pot that is filled — or refilled — on site with the restaurant’s mustards.
“The original place I saw this in was France and when my friends go to France I have them bring back mustard from speciality shops,” Bour said. “I thought it would be cool to bring that here. The mustard is made on premise with original recipes.”
He said mustard varieties will likely change monthly.
Unlike El Bizcocho, where it was uncommon to see children, Bour said parents are encouraged to bring youngsters to Avant where they can try new foods in small portions.
According to the online menu, charcuterie — where a variety of finger food-sized portions are served — is $6, or three for $15 or five for $23. Cheese plates start at $8, with discounts for multiple selections. Small plates are $6 to $18 and large plates are $21 to $38. Flat breads are $10 to $13. Signature cocktails, martinis and “classics” are $12 each while on tap beers are $5 to $7 and on tap wines start at $7 for a 6 ounce serving. Wines by the stem are $8 to $18.
Avant is open 4-10 p.m. Sundays to Thursdays and 4-11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Reservations are recommended. Call 858-675-8551 or go to www.avantrestaurant.com. Avant is in the Rancho Bernardo Inn, 17550 Bernardo Oaks Drive.
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