Café Merlot pours out the charm with ‘medicinal’ menu in Rancho Bernardo
By Kelley Carlson
For Café Merlot owners Toni and Rick Kraft, using culinary medicine in their restaurant’s recipes makes perfect “scents.” Toni Kraft said food is key to health and wellness, and that smells trigger people’s emotions. She appeals to guests’ senses by incorporating edible flowers, herbs and produce grown in the restaurant’s onsite micro-farm into the fare, along with culinary grade essential oils.
Have a headache? Kraft will recommend something with peppermint. Suffering from a “cloudy” brain? Lemon is the answer.
Patrons are also encouraged to slow down their eating and savor their bites, to “have an experience and eat with intention,” Kraft said. They’re aided by a relaxed setting, surrounded by olive trees and geraniums on the Bernardo Winery property, sometimes serenaded by the sounds of jazz.
The day at Café Merlot begins with breakfast items such as the Lobster Eggs Benedict on warm focaccia with breakfast potatoes, Kashi Granola, and a create-your- own Wine Country Omelet.
As the lunch hour approaches, people seem to enjoy starting their meals with a cheese platter, designed to complement the café’s wines from the Bernardo Winery and other labels. The “boutique” platter touches all the tastes — astringent, pungent, sweet, salty, sour and bitter — with samplings of Parmesan, baby Swiss, aged sharp cheddar, goat cheese rolled in fine herbs, goat cheese with craisins and walnuts, California garlic, Kalamon olives, sun-dried tomatoes and organic berries.
Much of the award-winning menu boasts house-made soups, salads and pastas. The Café Merlot House Salad is among the specialties, composed of grilled chicken breast, sun-dried tomatoes, goat cheese and toasted almonds over mixed greens with a creamy merlot salad dressing.
Another is the Northwest Atlantic Salmon Salad, which features a thinly sliced and grilled filet over greens, various vegetables, tomatoes, purple onions, capers with lemon wedges and lemon dressing.
Sandwiches also comprise a large portion of the offerings. Meats are soaked in brine and smoked on the premises, and used as fillings. One example is The Chef with Applewood smoked tri-tip that’s thinly sliced and marinated in a teriyaki glaze, accompanied by Thai peanut sauce, lettuce, tomato and Swiss on a toasted Kaiser bun.
There’s also the Chicago-style Reuben: hot corned beef, sauerkraut, Thousand Island dressing and Swiss on rye pumpernickel swirl bread.
“I’ve had people tell me if I ever take the Reuben off the menu, they’ll hang me from a flag pole,” Kraft joked.
As for Café Merlot’s desserts, they’re made from scratch. Kraft prefers the use of agave and raw local honey in the treats, rather than sugar. Popular items include Apple Crumb Pie, Kahlua Chocolate Cheesecake and Hot Chocolate Chip Fudge.
Patrons who admire the cooking techniques at Café Merlot can take three- hour cooking classes held Tuesdays and Thursdays every other week. They’re instructed in various styles, from ayurvedic vegan to barbecue, for $60 per class.
Café Merlot at the Bernardo Winery
13330 Paseo del Verano Norte, Rancho Bernardo
The Vibe: Casual, rustic, romantic
Signature Dishes: Café Merlot House
Salad, Northwest Atlantic Salmon Salad
Open Since: Late 1990s
Happy Hour: No
Hours: 9:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday-Sunday (open until 8 p.m. Fridays, June-September)
For a copy of Cafe Merlot’s Bresaola Salad recipe, click the link below:
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