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I was recently invited to preview the new summer menu at AVANT Restaurant at the Rancho Bernardo Inn. After parking in their huge lot, I wandered past gorgeous gardens toward the buildings and found the restaurant on the left. Inside, the bar area was already bustling and the stylish dining room was beginning to fill up. There was also a separate room with glass walls outside the main dining area and the PR person waved me in.
I was surprised to find myself inside AVANT Kitchen, a private dining area that staged an intimate 12 person wooden table (complete with a built-in lazy susan) and a showroom worthy kitchen in close proximity. The Chef de Cuisine Aaron Thomas was busy prepping the foods for that evening. Most of the items were available on the menu but in this special kitchen, you might be graced with a new creation on the chef's whim!
On the menu:
Tomato & Burrata salad, basil gel, summer citrus
The creamy soft burrata was accented by a mild sweetness in the basil gel and the juicy ripe tomatoes. It felt like a fresh summer bite.
Beet cured Hamachi, tequila poached pears, unagi caramel.
I rarely see a beautiful spoonful like this hamachi item, eye-catching with the reddish beet stained edges and smooth flesh landing on your tongue. There was a tartness to one of the fruit components which reminded me of kumquat. This took two bites to get it all in.
Hand harvested Scallops, glazed pork belly, chicharrones, Korean bbq cauliflower.
Hearing about this dish got my mouth salivating! The pork belly and scallop were a tad salty for my tastes but was otherwise cooked to the correct consistency. The chicharrones provided some crispy crunch while the cauliflower gave it a raw bite.
Rack of Lamb, herbed barley, smoked carrots, hibiscus demi.
The bone-in lamb chop was lean yet juicy soft and had the right amount of salt along the seared edge. Surprisingly I was most in awe of the pistachio crusted carrots, soft and sweet but enhanced by nutty bits of texture! If this carrot were available a la carte, I wouldn't hesitate to order it!
The lamb paired wonderfully with an acidic pinot noir. I didn't quite catch the exact name of it but the restaurant's certified sommelier, Joe Baumgardner, came out to talk with us about his selections for the night.
The pinot noir was said to be in very limited production and Joe managed to obtain the only 2 bottles that came to San Diego! There was a second white wine being served that night which I didn't get a chance to try.
Off the menu:
Lavender infused watermelon, grapefruit supreme, feta, micro cilantro
The firm but sweet watermelon and sun ripened tomato contrasted against the tart grapefruit pulp and saltiness of the feta. This combination reintroduced me to the joy of cheese on fruit!
Beef carpaccio, assiette of pickled vegetables, summer citrus, jalapeno aioli.
I don't eat this carpaccio often but the thinly sliced meat tasted fine. It was a very colorful creation by the chef. An accompanying pale green sauce was verde-like with a jalapeño bite and even the yellow sauce seemed to have some heat. I downed some water afterwards to cool my mouth!
Since Dennis wasn't able to attend (he went to comicon preview night), I was relieved to see two familar faces during the dinner, Michael and Darren from San Diego Food. We thought it would be fun to do the picture of me taking a picture of you bit!
Of course, I had to capture the chefs we met that night. On the left is Executive Chef Travis Watson who came out to say hi. On the right is Chef de Cuisine Aaron Thomas who pulled together the wonderful meal of the evening. Bios of both chefs can be found here.
Here's a view of the kitchen where the food was being made! Such a nice space to work in!
To the side of the kitchen island were three high tables paired with "director" style chairs, a perfect way to watch what chefs do best. It also reminded me of the one time I visited a movie set... the acclaimed actors were elsewhere filming but these director chairs were right in front of me... oh my! I was also interested in the open glass display of spices in the kitchen itself. Can we say kitchen jealousy?
The summer menu is promising based on the samples that night. I didn't experience it directly but I would expect the food and service of the main restaurant to be held to similar high standards. The AVANT Kitchen was a unique way to dine and interacting with the talented chefs so I'm thankful to be a part of one occasion! Additional information on reserving the private area or dining at the restaurant can be found on their website.
Disclaimer: We were invited to dine here and our meal was complimentary. We were not otherwise compensated and all opinions stated are our own.
17550 Bernardo Oaks Dr
San Diego CA 92128