Small plates at Bonny Doon Vineyard's restaurant are big on fresh flavors
It may have been April Fool's day, but it was no joke. Randall Grahm, winemaker and self-proclaimed "President-for-Life" of Bonny Doon Vineyard, announced the renaming of his Cellar Door Restaurant and Tasting Room. It is now called Le Cigare Volant, in honor of his winery's flagship wine, first released in 1984.
Grahm's original vision was to make this wine in the southern Rhône style of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, an appellation that makes wine blends with up to 13 varietals, typically based mostly on Grenache. Cigare Volant’s unusual name, which means "flying cigar," stems from the 1950s’ UFO sightings, which in France tended to resemble cigars. The Mayor of Châteauneuf-du-Pape declared that any cigare volante that landed would be placed in custody by the police. Over 25 years Grahm's vision has shifted for numerous reasons, but tying the restaurant by name to the on-site winery made sense.
Also new is Chef Ryan Shelton, who arrived in March to take over the kitchen. His most recent gig was working for chef-owner Bruno Chemel at Palo Alto's Baumé, a modernist, upscale French restaurant, with a lunchtime 5- or 9-item tasting course ($78/$128). It earned a couple of Michelin stars in its first two years.
Here at Le Cigare Volant, Chef Shelton's lunch menu is a selection of tapas-style plates, each incorporating the best of seasonal ingredients, and each with an unexpected twist. Bread is made in-house, as are the pickled vegetables.
Flatbreads ($14-$15), meant to be shared, were topped with either toasted kale salad, pumpkin seeds and lemon yogurt, or smoked duck, blueberries and arugula. Farrotto ($6) is a risotto made with farro, a whole-grain wheat, and served with Saba, a mustard that includes unfermented wine. A cookie medley ($3) and cheese plate ($11) with fruit add finishing touches to the meal.
We began with a rectangular plate of salad ($5). The baby greens were from Ecopia, a collection of extremely sustainable, Bay Area USDA-certified organic farms. The salad included toasted hazelnuts, skinned wedges of grapefruit and tart Reggiano-cheese dressing.
A plate of Blistered Green Peppers ($6) included little Padrones and slender Japanese shishitos, both of which are normally mild, although occasionally you'll encounter a spicy one. Sautéed in oil, they were topped with crumbles of house-made yogurt ricotta-based queso fresco, and served with a melon-colored dip which was a mixture of cream and goat cheeses with pepper purée.
Dip a small, torpedo shaped ball of avocado into corn batter and what do you get? Avocado Corndogs ($7), which were served with savory, whole grain chipotle-enhanced mustard, and a vial of lime soda with a sweet little scoop of avocado sorbet.
Milk-fed, free-range pork from Devil's Gulch Ranch was featured in the unusual deconstructed Sliders ($10). Shreds of smoked pulled pork with toasted ends were presented with ramekins of sun-dried tomato purée, minced onion and marinated artichoke relish, paper-thin, speckled taro root chips, and a pair of snow white, house-made steamed buns.
Le Cigare Volant Restaurant and Tasting Room, 328 Ingalls St., Santa Cruz, 425-6771. Open daily for lunch from noon until 6 p.m., tasting from noon until 5 p.m., and dinner Wednesday through Sunday 5:30-9 p.m. Visit bonnydoonvineyard.com.
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