Two's company: bringing chefs together over locally grown food in San Diego
By Toni Kraft
Today's celebrity-driven culture often reinforces the image of a single chef behind the success of every great restaurant or hit cooking show. But in fact, the union of two chefs working together - one to take the administrative lead, the other to lend creative inspiration - is not only common practice but also the key to many signature dishes and renowned kitchens. At Café Merlot, our two chefs work together to showcase locally grown food in San Diego. By blending technical expertise and innovative panache, this "chef marriage" creates a perfect equilibrium in the kitchen - and some of the best California cuisine in the city.
Cooking is at once an art and a science, a regimented discipline and a wild adventure. Imagine the kitchen like a body: it needs both the artistic impulses of the right brain and the analytical precision of the left to reach its full potential. Regardless of his or her talent and training, any single chef is apt to lean to one side from time to time. But with two chefs, there is a unique opportunity to marry differing techniques and skills
At Café Merlot, our two Chefs de Cuisines tackles the delicious challenge of crafting flavorful, distinctive, fresh and accessible dishes from locally grown California ingredients - many of which come directly from our on-site microfarm. Together, they share their differing perspectives on food and flavors to infuse our menu with Mediterranean accents and comfort food favorites. The end result is a seamless blend tailor made for our North County winery restaurant. Curious? Then join us for a meal, a cooking class or a special event and experience the gourmet alchemy for yourself!
Eat local and expand your culinary horizons at Café Merlot
There is always something happening at Café Merlot - and that means our valued visitors have countless opportunities to see (and taste!) a great chef marriage in action. This summer, we have a number of cooking classes coming up to awaken the senses and inspire your own inner chef. Check out our Grilling, BBQ, Marinades, Rubs & Mops class on July 24, or the Season's Best Seafood on August 14. If you prefer a more leisurely taste from our kitchen, consider attending demonstration or simply pulling up a chair for a meal. To learn more about our chefs, our menu and our stunning North County winery restaurant location, visit us online today: www.cafemerlot.com.
Café Merlot in the News
By Annie Lane
Café Merlot Offers Discounted Cooking Classes In April
Café owner Toni Kraft says her happiest cooking memories are those involving her grandmothers.
As the owner of Café Merlot in the Bernardo Winery for the past four years, it's no surprise that some of Toni Kraft's best memories involve food—and her grandmothers.
"My favorite memory is that of my Nana-I have two favorites," said Kraft. "We planted fava beans and picked them and had a feast when I was 8."
She continued: "(The) second is with my Grandma that worked with culinary medicine. We would knock on doors with herbs and poultices to remedy the neighbors (for things like) cysts, colds, bad pregnancies."
It's in keeping with that back-to-earth upbringing that Kraft offers cooking classes at Café Merlot, which are taught by her or Executive Chef Joe. Kraft says those interested can expect to learn about the social aspect of cooking as well technique.
"Our classes are La Technique in style, and that differs from other classes since they are all hands-on and we work with our students to create meals," Kraft said. "We do not just lecture and sell kitchen gadgets."
Each class costs $50 per person, but Kraft is offering a buy-one-get-one-free discount during the month of April. Classes run from 5:30-8:30pm on various Tuesdays. For more information, call 858-592-7785.
By Toni Kraft
Women, food, health and happiness: rejuvenating the spirit with the best food for your body
Women's health has been a hot topic in the news lately; but in the midst of a political melee, even the most ardent defenders of the female body are apt to lose touch with their own physical well-being from time to time. A return to authentic wellness can help women rejuvenate from the inside out: and one of the best ways to get in touch with your inner rhythm is to reconnect with the earth and seek out the best food for your body in the form of natural, nourishing, seasonal and delectable cuisine.
Spring is a season of rebirth, reawakening, vibrancy and life; and for women, it is also an ideal time to reconnect the body and psyche through conscious rest, joyous activity, good company and great food. Many women spend an exorbitant amount of time worrying about their relationship with food – when in fact, the best defense against unhealthy habits, weight gain, stress eating and resultant mood swings is a balanced diet based on each woman's individual needs and the unique rhythms of her body. According to Women's Health magazine, delicious and nourishing natural foods like almonds, pistachios, avocados, salmon, citrus fruits, spinach and milk can beat back stress, provide vital nutrients for improved cardiovascular and immune health, soothe PMS and even satisfy cravings. Meanwhile, locavores insist that eating in tune with the seasons helps women – and everyone, for that matter – glean the greatest benefit and flavor from their food – and subsequently, the greatest joy and nourishment as well.
At Café Merlot, where the food is always fresh and frequently sourced from our own on-site micro-garden, where the wine flows from our neighbors at the historic Bernardo Winery, we believe in making mealtimes sacred – for friends, family or even solo sustenance and sensual enjoyment. Celebrate spring at the Café with the bounty of the season, artfully prepared and lovingly served by our experienced chefs in a charmingly, rustic setting alongside our beautiful grounds. Or, if you want to get in touch with the food on your plate, consider signing up for one of our signature Café Merlot cooking classes including food, wine, supplies, fun times and expert instruction. Choose from upcoming themes like Kitchen Comfort & Culinary Therapy and Farm to Feast (featuring organic wines!).
Come for the food; and stay for the great company and enduring friendships forged at Café Merlot's renowned Rancho Bernardo restaurant. Learn more, peruse a menu or sign up for a cooking class today – and take an active role in making this your most vibrant, healthy and delicious year yet!
By Toni Kraft
California Restaurant Month features new events, tastings and classes for local diners
Whether you're a local foodie or an uninitiated visitor to San Diego's restaurant scene, the New Year is the perfect time to experience the county's best restaurants and wineries on a dime. Throughout the month of January, local wineries and restaurants are hosting a bevy of events in celebration of California Restaurant Month: and from special pairings to prix fixe menus, diners can sample the region's culinary delights while supporting local businesses and taking time to reconnect with family, friends and the joys of farm, sea and vineyard-fresh dining.
Intrepid diners can make their way across the gamut of culinary options, from downtown San Diego's top destination restaurants featuring celebrity chef demonstrations to waterfront favorites and wine country tasting tours – most of which will be offering significant discounts in addition to special offerings over the course of the month. But for something a little different, local restaurateurs recommend at least a brief departure from the Gaslmp hotspots and Old Town tortilla factories in favor of the rural beauty, freshly picked ingredients and friendly atmosphere of the city's outlying counties, historic treasures and hidden gems.
Taste, toast, pair and prepare – all under one roof at San Diego's oldest working winery
There are countless options for wine tasting and feasting alike among San Diego's many dining destinations; but for a truly authentic, gloriously fresh and historically fascinating introduction to local wine country, there's no better place to start than the Bernardo Winery in San Diego's North County – the oldest continually operating winery in Southern California. With an entire village surrounding the Winery featuring studios, galleries shops and our own signature restaurant, the Bernardo Winery has something for everyone. At Café Merlot, we are proud of our position as the on-site restaurant and pairing partner with Bernardo Winery: and we look forward to sharing our distinctive culinary creations with visitors throughout Restaurant Month and beyond, be it in our rustic, inviting dining room or during one of our catered events, wine pairing evenings or interactive cooking classes.
This month, Café Merlot is kicking off the New Year with some exciting new options for our valued guests. Change up your usual dining-out routine with custom food and wine pairings designed to wake up your palate; or join us for our new Community Table and take in a late afternoon or early evening meal with likeminded diners. Also, starting in March, our guests can give – and receive — the gift of cooking by bringing friends and family to a cooking class at our renowned Rancho Bernardo restaurant. Our classes are fun, educational and delicious events featuring local flavors that allow you to both enjoy the ambiance of the café and bring the joys of cooking home to your own kitchen for years to come.
There's always something new going on at Café Merlot – during Restaurant Month, yes, but also every other day of the year. To learn more about North County Inland dining at Café Merlot, or to make a reservation or peruse a list of upcoming events, we encourage you to stop by to say hello – or visit us online, at www.cafemerlot.com.
By Toni Kraft
Heart of a farm, soul of a kitchen: slowing down to appreciate fresh food and togetherness
As the holiday season swings into full gear, it can be easy to get caught up in the rush - and to shop, plan, prepare and travel our way through the month without ever once sitting down to truly enjoy the warmth and delight that defines this magical time of year. Hurrying from the office to the mall to the food court, we lose touch with togetherness…and forget to stop and give thanks for our everyday bounty. This year, consider carving out some time in your frantic schedule to create an oasis from the speed of everyday life; and resolve to ring in the New Year with a commitment to reconnect with family, friends and the food that nourishes us all over thoughtfully prepared, locally grown meals.
To most of us, dining out is synonymous with excess: sugary treats, fatty dishes and other indulgences, often purchased in a hurry and devoured with speedy relish. But especially in tough economic times, eating out should be something special – and for that matter, something so much more than an exercise in quantity or decadence. Done well, and with intention, restaurant dining can be a chance to slow down — to focus on where food comes from, who touches it as it is transformed into delicious, nutrient-rich dishes, and how it makes us feel. And at this time of year, holiday dining can be a golden opportunity to indulge the senses, yes – but in a manner that enriches the soul and fortifies the body through careful and conscious preparation and atmosphere. At Café Merlot, this is precisely the environment we strive to create for our guests: and by blending our use of fresh, local produce from our micro-farm with a commitment to serving the best in elegant yet casual cuisine, we hope to inspire a genuine appreciation for the source and process of great food in our valued friends and patrons.
Reconnect and rejuvenate with fresh meals and Holiday Nights in San Diego's historic wine country
Complete with a neighboring winery, miniature farm, charmingly rustic ambiance and warm, inviting atmosphere, Café Merlot is the ideal spot to gather together this holiday season and throughout the year for an unforgettable meal among friends. This year, we are pleased to announce Holiday Nights at the café, December 15th -18th, featuring extended dinner hours, caroling, crafters and late-night shopping opportunities. Join us for one of our exclusive dinner seatings and indulge your taste buds with freshly prepared, festive creations from our celebrated chefs. Alternatively, consider choosing Café Merlot for your corporate and private catering needs throughout the holiday party season: we'll bring our "Fresh Café" direct from our kitchen to your door.
Whether you come to us, or we come to you, we at Café Merlot can guarantee an experience that will leave you not only satisfied, but also confident in your decision to trust us with the preparation and presentation of a truly great meal. To RSVP for Holiday Nights, or learn more about catering and event hosting opportunities at the café, visit us online: www.cafemerlot.com.
By Toni Kraft
Hostess tips to help you sit back, relax and enjoy the flavors of the season
With a new year already mere months away and a chilly, pre-winter crispness in the air, mid-autumn can feel at once refreshing and fleeting, like an all too brief calm before the holiday season storm. But if we take time out to rejuvenate this month – to enjoy the new fall TV lineup, perhaps, or tuck into a good book — we may also find ourselves noticing the subtler markers of this time of year, and reveling in shorter days, cooler temperatures and an undeniable urge to settle in, snuggle up and enjoy the cozy delights of a season focused on warmth, leisure and togetherness.
According to recent media reports from the likes of the Hollywood Reporter, early season pick-ups of fall's newest television comedies suggest an overwhelming popular demand for good humor; and in a season infused with family gatherings, work parties and all manner of festive fun, it's no surprise that laughter is currently ruling the airwaves. But whether you're taking advantage of the pre-holiday respite with a girl's night in around the TV or a more formal get-together at the office, one thing is clear: the emphasis should be enjoying one another's company and escaping the stress that all too often engulfs party hosts and average folks alike as the holidays draw near.
Of course, the key to stress-free entertaining is to make everything – the food, the wine, the décor – as simple as possible without sacrificing style. Some of us may have that gift; but for those who don't, consider Café Merlot as an alternative for elegant yet casual catering that allows you to celebrate the season with effortless panache.
Taste autumn's bounty with local selections from Café Merlot "Out the Door"
Situated on-site at the historic Bernardo Winery and dedicated to crafting the best in classic, locally sourced cuisine with a contemporary twist, Café Merlot is the ideal source for all your seasonal catering needs. With a flexible, custom catering service featuring seasonal produce picked at its peak from the café's own micro farm, cChef Joe are every fall party host's greatest allies. Choose from an enticing selection of entrees for an informal dinner, or throw a Soup and Pasta party with Lobster Bisque soup, Pumpkin Ravioli and a homemade bread pudding to end the evening on a sweet note. Whatever the occasion, and whichever menu items you choose, Café Merlot "Out the Door" will be an asset to your party preparations and, most importantly, a perfect excuse to skip lengthy shopping, chopping, basting and boiling tasks in favor of fresh, ready-to-eat food brought to your doorstep.
This autumn, slow down and make life a little easier on yourself: let Café Merlot indulge your senses while simultaneously freeing up time for the things that really matter. To learn more about our catering packages or to peruse a full menu, visit us online: www.cafemerlot.com.
By Toni Kraft
In the wake of recent media coverage concerning food sourcing and safety, many consumers are experiencing a renewed interest in where food comes from - and how to make sure it is safe, wholesome and natural by the time it hits their plates. According to ABC News, a simple way to reduce contamination risk is to buy local — and to replace well-traveled produce with the seasonal fruits of your own native soil. As a San Diego restaurant owner and self-professed food lover, I take the health, safety and satisfaction benefits of locally-sourced meals to heart; and as we move into autumn and the beginnings of the holiday season, I believe it is important to remember not only where our favorite foods come from, but also how we can engage with them to create meals and gifts to truly nourish the body and the soul.
Shifting consumer focus to local food can sometimes be a challenge, especially when it means making special trips to farmer's markets or sacrificing certain "routine" foods that are currently out of season. But with encouragement and inspiration from a cooking class, special meal or catered event at Café Merlot, any diner can discover her inner locavore - and learn to craft and appreciate warm, delicious meals made with produce grown just outside the dining room door.
Classes, catering and customized service at the Bernardo Winery's signature café
Nestled adjacent to the historic Bernardo Winery and surrounded by verdant grounds, a 200 square-foot micro-farm and breathtaking scenery, Café Merlot is an oasis where diners can enjoy locally sourced gourmet meals and fine wines, and kick back in a friendly, charming environment. With a seasonally-revolving menu featuring produce grown on-site, Café Merlot is the cure to fast-paced, urban dining - and a gateway to culinary education and adventure that's ideally suited to the onset of the holiday season.
Autumn at the café is distinguished by fresh menu additions and pairings designed to stimulate the senses. Diners will find a refreshing blend of the latest food trends and timeless classics - and whether your palate tends towards the traditional comforts of fresh breads, warming soups and pasta entrees, or prefers surprising combinations like our grilled salmon BLT sandwich or "sweet to heat" roasted salsa, there's sure to be something to tickle your taste buds on offer any day of the year.
This fall, the café will feature custom catering options in addition to regular breakfast and lunch dining; and whether you're hosting a holiday party, an office luncheon or a special family event, our rustic yet casual ambiance will put guests at ease and allow them to focus on their time together over sensational food and wine. In addition, Chef Joe are set to host a variety of fun, informative wine pairing and cooking classes including "Gifts from Your Kitchen," a seasonal favorite scheduled for October 13, 2011. Seize the opportunity to re-connect with local, seasonal San Diego food - and then share the joy of great dining with your friends, family and co-workers. To view our full menu, sign up for a course or peruse a list of upcoming classes and events, visit us online: www.cafemerlot.com
October 7th, 2010
Café Merlot in the Bernardo Windery Pairs Wine with Breakfast Chef Joe from Cafe Merlot explains how to pair wine with a seasonal menu.
April 17th, 2007
Sam Bass from KYXY FM writes about the Risks and Rewards of opening your own business.