In its heyday, El Bizcocho at the Rancho Bernardo Inn was one of the places to eat in San Diego. It might not have been the flashiest, but the quiet and somewhat out-of-the-way locale was a true gem for those in the know .
Now the R.B. Inn (17550 Bernardo Oaks Drive) and chef Nicolas Bour have given El Biz a much-needed facelift, renaming the dining room Avant and changing the fussy French menu to a more modern and seasonal take on California cuisine.
Avant feels much more like how San Diego does fancy: no dress code, but still classy and casually elegant. I was looking for a date night away from our 2-year-old, and Avant gave me a great excuse to put on earrings.
And speaking of ears, we started our meal with ones that were fried (because why not) and weren't disappointed. If you're still weirded out by the snout-to-tail trend, fried pig ears are a good way to get your little hooves wet. And let's be honest: These are pork rinds. But they're fancy pork rinds.
The skin, when deep-fried, becomes so crisp and puffed that each bite lightly melts on your tongue. The bolder, more dominant flavor of the pickled peppers was mellowed by a gooey, yellow poached egg. This was a savory way to start our meal.
Avant's menu has plenty of tantalizing options, but go traditional and order the free-range chicken. This bird was exceptional. Not only was the meat steaming hot with each cut—savory juices permeating everything on my plate—but chef Bour, God bless him, is going to get me back into eating chicken skin. (Or maybe I should curse him?)
When done right, there might be nothing better to snack on than chicken skin, and I say that after eating an entire bag of Tostitos Hint of Lime chips last weekend. I totally know high-brow snacks. This isn't your typical rubbery layer of feather-plucked flab to be forked aside, all the seasoning completely misused and discarded; this skin had the salty, slightly oily crackle and crunch of the lightest chip. The chicken was wonderful but the skin was a revelation.
Avant has a well-curated selection of cheeses and charcuterie, including a duck rillette served with mustard straight out of a special mustard tap. But if you don't want to go the cheese-platter route, check out the salumi flatbread. Crispy, chewy dough is topped with salty, black-truffle-laced pecorino and soft, luscious folds of prosciutto and crowned with a heavily dressed tangle of arugula. From the peppery snap of the greens to the earthy musk of the truffled cheese, this flatbread is decadent in its simplicity. The ingredients are the stars; Avant just puts them together in a luscious pile you can share (or horde) with gusto.
The Rancho Bernardo Inn has an elegant, old-world (and old-money) feel to it that could lean toward stuffy. Avant is a bright new spot in the hills of R.B., with food that's refined yet accessible. Even the pork rinds.