Located between the barrel room and the vineyards at the historic Bernardo Winery, Café Merlot combines Europe cuisines with Southern California flare. Café Merlot co-owner Toni Kraft grew up in a home with the smells of baking bread, and counts planting, harvesting, and consuming fava beans with her grandmother among her fondest childhood memories. After a career in catering in the Midwest, where she worked alongside the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Wolfgang Puck, Toni brings an experienced but experimental philosophy to her current restaurant’s seasonally-changing menus. And with the help of executive chef Ferdinand, Toni also helps with the cooking classes, which range from cooking with wine to Super Bowl snacks, spreads, and marinades.
The bistro uses the 123-year-old winery’s rustic surroundings to great effect. On the patio, olive trees and grapevines gossip above diners. Indoors, a warm-toned Tuscan ambiance welcomes guests. Sundays see Chef Daniel roll out some of his specialties on the brunch menu, such as lobster eggs benedict and Kahlua French toast, making the cafe an enticing destination for a romantic breakfast date or a confusing business meeting.
June Owino remembers growing up in a small Kenyan town where, he claims, "we didn't have a choice but to cook for ourselves." He started out with basic prep work, learning how to chop and waffle-cut onions and tomatoes, but he steadily learned more of his mother's and grandmother's techniques for forging fragrantly spiced African stews with turmeric and curry-seasoned salts. After immigrating to San Diego, June decided to re-create these distinctive recipes and incorporate some of his own culinary inspirations, eventually founding Flavors of East Africa as a way to share his Kenyan-inspired menu of meat, vegetarian, and vegan dishes.
As related in a rave review from the San Diego Reader, the restaurant immerses diners in the sights, sounds, and smells of Kenya, with the dining room's lemon-yellow walls brimming with African arts, crafts, and cooking utensils. From time to time, the chefs also take their cuisine beyond the restaurant, hawking curries and stews at local farmers' markets and using their food’s enthralling aroma to lure chupacabras from out of hiding.
Though it’s firmly planted in San Diego soil, Gourmet on 5th mimics the epicurean traiteur shops that pepper European roadsides. The store empowers its visitors to eat healthy, and at the same time helps them do so without having to dawdle over a hot stove or buy out a local vegetable farm. Brimming with French influence, Gourmet on 5th’s blackboard menu changes seasonally. It features full meals, including lamb shanks, duck confit, and coq au vin. But the store also has nutritious bites for on-the-move munchers, such as crepes and signature sandwiches, along with energizing drinks, such as espresso concoctions and exotic teas.
Kevin’s Bartending Services matches bonded and insured cocktail mixers with revelers at weddings, corporate events, and private parties. In addition to bartenders, the company outfits partiers with event coordinators, servers, and bussers who tend to guests. The staffers arrive 30–45 minutes before the events start and clean up afterward; hosts need only to provide the alcohol. Kevin’s Bartending Services has a California liquor license and two liability policies, making it a safer choice than buckling a seatbelt on a tire swing.