Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Le Cigare Volant.

While most folks were trying to hide from the massive incoming storm this past weekend, the hubbs and I decided to jump in the car and head towards the seashore.  We were looking to celebrate his birthday by tucking away in a little beach town somewhere along the coast and found ourselves in beautiful Santa Cruz.  Our drive down was easy and quick, only taking a little over an hour or so from South San Francisco- we snuck over to Half Moon Bay and literally coasted our way down PCH, avoiding all evening traffic and terrible inland weather.  The horizon was brightly lit, the ocean was raging and the hills were shrouded in heavy rain clouds.  Nonetheless, it was a spectacular drive down the California coast towards our destination...

We arrived a bit past five, along with a heavy sprinkle and sigh of relief that we had won the race against the monsoon about to slam into the Monterey Bay.  After checking into the Seaway Inn (a place I highly recommend for it's friendly service, affordable rates and clean, comfortable rooms), we walked down to the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf to grab a pre-dinner drink and relax before dinner.  I dragged the hubbs through the torrent and down the plank to the Firefish Grill- I'd visited a few weeks earlier and knew they had oysters, so I was on a mission.  The vibe at Firefish is a great mix of surfers, eccentric locals, curious tourists and people just looking for a decent plate of seafood served oceanside.  Half a dozen Blue Point bivalves and a bottle of Cava later, we were ready to move on to our reservations at Bonny Doon Vineyard's newly re-named (after the iconic wine)... Le Cigare Volant.

First off, here's a quick overview of Le Cigare Volant:
"Formerly known as the Cellar Door, the Santa Cruz venue adopted the brand’s iconic wine name as 
its moniker. The winery is slated to celebrate the release of the 25th vintage of its heralded Le Cigare Volant this year. Winemaker and President-for-Life, Randall Grahm produced his first vintage in 1984 as an homage to Châteauneuf-du-Pape."

"Commenting on the restaurant name change, Grahm explained, it represents a commitment to a more refined, if not empyrean level of cuisine and service, as well as a proclamation of a deeper association between the restaurant and the winery itself.”

"Chef Ryan Shelton will lead the culinary team at Le Cigare Volant. Joining Bonny Doon from two star, Michelin-rated Baumé Restaurant in Palo Alto, Shelton also held posts at the award-winning Chez TJ in Mountain View, and at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel. “We’re thrilled to have Ryan’s extensive knowledge and unique skill set in the kitchen as we take the restaurant to the next level of excellence,” explained Bonny Doon Vineyard General Manager, Jim Connell. Nathaniel Muñoz, with extensive restaurant experience in the Central Coast of California, has assumed the role of restaurant manager."

"Bonny Doon is committed to producing elegant, soulful, food-friendly wines in a largely hands-off, “acoustic” style, working with Biodynamic and organic growers wherever and whenever possible. The restaurant shares a common philosophy sourcing the finest local ingredients to create fresh, seasonal and honest flavors for the table."

Walking into Le Cigare Volant, you are immediately taken aback by the large wooden casks (with built in booth seating) and the large, wooden steampunk-esque cigar shaped spaceship hanging from the ceiling.  The bistro style seating is simple, elegant and lends itself well to an intimate meal.  The centerpiece of the entire facility is the large oak barrel tasting bar- Boony Doon Vineyard clearly pulls in a large crowd for their tastings, but a night, the counter sits silent, shiny and quiet.  There's a minimalistic approach to the dining area that only complements their vibrant, seasonal farm-to-table menu.  The combination of the two elements has you feeling as though you've discovered someone's secret kitchen, hidden away in a warehouse, surrounded by wine.

As we took our seats, we were greeted by our server, fully prepared with a smile and an amuse-bouche in hand.  A plate of Chef Ryan Shelton's handmade granola- a fun and unusual way to clean to palate, being a blend of steel-cut oats, sun-dried grapes and earthy puffed grains.  

Next, I was eager to sample a few of Le Cigare Volant's much talked about small plates.  Having read about  several of the starter bites from fellow foodies, I chose two very different but incredibly tasty dishes...

Emperor Norton Canning Co. Pub Pickles.  There weren't any pickled cucumbers (as most would expect) but this adorable jar was packed with pickled carrots, pearl onions and cauliflower.  The vegetables were fresh and crunchy with just enough bite to make your lips pucker.  Big bonus: Emperor Norton Canning Co. is straight out of Santa Cruz- again, Bonny Doon supports local farms and producers by bringing their goods straight to your table.

Smoked Fingerling Potato – “Potted” with Chives.  Good gracious, both the hubbs and I nearly melted when we dug into this little pot of savory yum.  The potatoes were cooked perfectly, with a slightly smoky flavor and the creme in the bottom of the pot was pure bliss- I believe it was an airy Hollandaise style sauce. The "dirt" on the top of the potato "flowers" was an ingenius balsamic vinaigrette crouton crumble.  Simply delicious.

Next, we continued our way through the menu by sharing one of their "delicacies"...

The Straus Family Creamery Pan-Fried Ricotta – with Apple Agrodolce & Butternut Gnocchi.  I will start by saying I'm particularly obsessed with all Straus Family Creamery ingredients.  I consume their milk, cream, butter, sour cream and ice cream on a daily basis, so you bet I'll order a dish that highlights their product.  More interestingly, I loved the pairing of the sweet & sour agrodolce and the plump, smooth fried cheese.  This dish epitomizes the seasonal, farm-fresh dishes that make Le Cigare Volant special.

For our main courses, neither of us could decide so we went with the "you get one, I'll get the other" option, like we often do when dining out together.  It really is the best way to order if you are willing to share- at one point I was no longer willing to part with my dish and the hubbs protested.  I tried to barder my way into keeping at all for myself, but I lost out when he waved a forkfull of his meal under my nose.  As much as I wanted to be selfish, it seemed unfair to hoard, so I politely gave in and let him try mine.  He'll tell the same story, except I'm sure he'll claim that I stole his dish and wouldn't give it back (which might be true.)

Seared Breast of 38 North Chicken, Carrot Top Ravioli- Live Earth Carrot Variants, Brown Butter.  This fantastic chicken is air-chilled and locally raised, giving it an unbelievably juicy flavor.  The ravioli was distinctly unique, with a firm texture and rich, hearty filling.  Both were lightly drizzled in a brown butter sauce but the dish tasted extremely light and refreshing overall.

Pan-Seared Skuna Bay Craft-Fed Salmon – Sunchoke Risotto, Red Wine Reduction.  The hubbs had to pry this dish out of my hands once I had sampled a bite.  The salmon was cooked to perfection and the risotto was some of the best I've tasted this year (and you know I love risotto!).  The only way I can manage to describe the mixture of flavors here is by calling it decadent.  The crispy skin, the delicate bite of the salmon sashimi as a comparison, the red wine reduction... Bravo Le Cigare Volant, bravo.

And for dessert- we were gifted a Petite Cabernet Gelee bite.  Sweet, dusted with sugar and quickly enjoyed.  A lovely end to our meal.

Le Cigare Volant is open for dinner Weds–Sunday, and for lunch on Saturday and Sunday. Wednesday
evenings are devoted to Community Table, a special prix fixe, family-style meal celebrating the experience of
food and wine shared communally.  Reservations are available by calling 831-425-6771 or at
www.bonnydoonvineyard/reserve.com  The menu changes daily.  Please visit www.lecigarevolant.com to view.

If you are in the Santa Cruz area, please take the time to visit Le Cigare Volant.  You will be pleasantly smitten by the food, the friendly service and the intriguing world of Bonny Doon Vineyard and their many delightful wines.  Gracious thanks to the staff at Le Cigare Volant for making it a memorable birthday evening for the hubbs as well.


Le Cigare Volant 
Hours of Operation
LUNCH.....Daily 12-6
TASTING...Daily 12-5
DINNER....Wed-Sun 5:30-9


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