Café Bovino

cafe sign

My first encounter with Bovino Vineyards was at a Back Roads Wineries tasting event early this year. I was intrigued with their story and enjoyed the wines I tasted, ever since I’ve been meaning to go to their tasting room to try the full line of wine. When I heard they had hired a chef and launched a tapas style menu I knew it was time for a visit.

Before jumping into the food, I took a little time to taste through the wine list. The large tasting room has huge windows that offer gorgeous views of the surrounding vineyards and country side. In addition to seating at the bar, the tasting room offers cocktail tables with seating, a little lounge area, and a large patio with table and chairs where guest can sit and enjoy the spectacular views.

The wines available for tasting changes, with a nice selection of wines under two labels. The first label is Joludi, a combination of Joe & Ludi (the owner’s parents’ nicknames). The second is gen.er.os.i.ty and a percentage of all sales from this label is donated to a charity. The selected charity changes every 6 months and is currently the Valley Children’s Hospital.

All wines are made from 100% estate-grown grapes by winemaker Steve Anglim. Forty-five acres of the eighty-five acre property is planted with seventeen different grape varietals, including Rhone, Bordeaux, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese varietals.

Chef Jeff Puckett

Chef Jeff Puckett joined the team at Bovino after meeting the winery’s owner. After chatting they felt Chef Jeff would be a great fit given his passion for developing flavors to pair with wines. His 15+ years of cooking experience, including private and corporate catering, has prepared him to develop the café’s menu and also create custom menus for events.

The café opens with the tasting room (at 11am) and closes one hour before the tasting room closes for the day. Arrangements can be made for food service after hours and private functions on the patio.

One of the items on the menu is rustic french fries with a flight of sauces. These perfectly seasoned, fried to perfection french fries are an ideal item to have while wine tasting. Guests can order a small or large plate and select up to three different dipping sauces. I went with the Tomatilo & Avocado, Chipotle Citrus Mayo and the Jalapeño Ketchup. They were all so good I couldn’t pick a favorite.

With the exception of the french fries, all items on the menu have a recommended pairing. Guest can order a sample (approximately 3 oz) of the paired wine for just $5. The menu items are designed for sharing, and each comes with an option of ordering small (perfect for one or two people) or large (portioned for up to four people).

The Smoked Country Ham, Comte Cheese and Potato Croquette was served with mustard and rosemary. Cutting into the crunchy croquette with the melted cheese and ham center, I knew this was a dish I would enjoy. The flavors were spot on and paired well with the Albariño.

New York Steak Crostini

Next up was a New York Steak Crostini. Served with roasted red pepper and Achiote puree, a little garlic and fresh herbs, this was another lovely item and the pairing of the estate Zinfandel with its smokey accent worked well.

Another winning dish was the Spanish Smoked Pork Belly served on skewers topped with tomato and basil. The star of this dish was the Romesco — I wanted to get a jar of this to go! The pork belly was cooked perfectly and once again I enjoyed the pairing, a blend of Zinfandel and Petit Sirah.

Caramelized Red Onion Jam, Bacon and Basil Bruschetta. Need I say more? These are addictive. At this point I really regretted that I was sharing the order with three other people! This is a must have item, and I enjoyed the paired 2016 Right Bank (Petit Verdot, Merlot and Cabernet Franc blend).

I typically skip dessert; however, I really wanted to get the full experience, so when others at my table ordered the Lemon Pudding Cake I was all in. My favorite part was the Grand Marnier Honeyed Berries and fresh basil on top. The Chef paired this dish with the Grenache Blanc (one of my favorites).

Overall I am so impressed with this winery that opened in May. Having a beautiful property and impressive buildings with state of the art equipment certainly helps, but I think what really makes this place special is the focus on hospitality. All of the staff clearly have a passion for what they do and a great respect for the owner. Offering guests so many choices of places to sit and relax with a wide range of food & wine options will likely make this several people’s favorite hang out place (I know I’ll be going back with friends soon).

Bovino Vineyards is located at 5685 El Pomar and is open Friday – Sunday with private tastings offered by appointment Monday-Thursday. Visit their website for more information. 

Restaurant Month

January is the month that so many people decide to cut back, typically on food, spending and alcohol (yes some crazy people actually go for a full month without so much as a glass of wine!).

All of the cutting back makes January a very difficult month for restaurants. San Luis Obispo restaurants decided to do something about that and declared January as Restaurant Month. Basically, participating restaurants across the county offer special prix-fixe menus of three courses at $30-$40 per person or other special offerings. In some cases that is a very good deal and enough to entice people to indulge.

The entire list of participating restaurants (along with a link to each menu) can be view on the SLO Cal website. Each year, I make an effort to try at least one of the special menus. This year my pick was Villa San Juliette Winery located on the Pleasant Valley Wine Trail.

I made my selection for a number of reasons:

  • The three-course $40 menu included wine paired with each course
  • The third course was a cheese plate (I’m not much of a dessert person)
  • There is plenty of parking
  • The meal is served in the elegant tasting room with views of the gorgeous property

The first course offered a choice of Green Salad with Herbed Vinaigrette or Cream of Wild Mushroom Soup paired with 2017 Pinot Gris Reserve. I choose the wild mushroom soup and was not disappointed. The soup was topped with a little truffle oil and fresh herbs – may just be the best mushroom soup I have ever had. The pinot gris was a perfect pairing.

The second course was Osso Bucco over Creamy Polenta & Sautéed Baby Carrots paired with 2014 Petite Sirah Estate (the DTC manager, Tracy Northington, knows me so well she offered to substitute the petite sirah for my favorite wine – cabernet franc). The chef nailed this dish, especially the polenta! My friend stuck with the recommended pairing and thought the wine really complemented the dish. I find cabernet franc pairs with just about anything, so I was happy with my pairing too.

I have to point out, not only was the food and wine spot on, the service was over the top. The tasting room staff take care of most of the service (and they are all new to food service). I’m not sure who took care of the training, but I have to say they did better than most waitstaff in restaurants in the area.

Chef Yavanna Tuftee delivered the entree. I always enjoy meeting chefs and getting a bit of the inside scoop. Yavanna is fairly new to Villa San Juliette; however, with several years as a sous chef at Cass Winery, she certainly is not new to the food and wine scene in the area. She loves being able to focus on the winery’s menu Thursdays-Mondays 11-4 so she can enjoy her evenings with her family. In February she will introduce a new seasonal menu with several “to share” items – can’t wait to see what she comes up with for the winter menu. The menu will change with the seasons, so check the event page of the website for current offerings.

I already mentioned the final course was a cheese plate instead of dessert. This was served with 2015 Grenache Reserve. I found the selection of cheese, a little honey and apricots to be a lovely end to the meal. We stayed a while longer to sip our wine (thumbs up on the grenache as well). A few other groups arrived while we were there and it was nice to hear all the happy chatter.

If you want to enjoy this menu, I’d recommend making a reservation. While it is not required, there is limited seating inside, so best to have a seat waiting for you and your dining companions. This menu ends January 31st.