From inside The Vintage Steakhouse, it would be easy to pretend that a passenger on the trains passing just outside the window is engrossed in a pristine early edition of The Sun Also Rises, smoke swirling off the Chesterfield perched absentmindedly between his fingers. Without much effort, you might conjure a woman in the bar car, gratefully sipping a Southside and sending up a wordless celebration of the reversal of Prohibition.
That’s because restaurant resides inside the historic Capistrano Depot, which, despite its 1894 build date, bears an unmistakably art-deco vibe evocative of the 1920s or ‘30s. A trio of arched windows is the focal point of the main dining room; when trains aren’t sliding past their decoratively gridded glass, diners can peek through bougainvillea and willow trees to the 200-year-old adobes planted behind them. Inside, knotted wood planks run across the 18-foot ceilings, a near match to the hardwood floors glistening beneath.
A smaller dining room sits in the adjoining Dining Car, a fully restored 1927 Pullman train car upholstered in warm reds and golds. Candlelit tables for two line each side of the car, under which couples’ intertwined feet rest softly upon the regally patterned carpet. The ambience is a bit more social in the Chef’s Alley room, an 1887 freight house with its own cocktail bar and more contemporary décor.
No matter where parties choose to dine, they’re presented with a thoughtful menu of hand-cut steaks and seafood accented with local, organic produce. The chef prepares all dishes over an open-flame mesquite grill, giving everything a juicy, so-that’s-what-fire-tastes-like flavor. A chef’s selection of veggies and the patron’s choice of potato accompany the entrees, which range from filet mignon in a cabernet demi-glace to prawns sautéed in a sauvignon-blanc sauce.
These rich sauces pair perfectly with the more than 150 varietals that populate the restaurant’s wine list. Though heavy on French and Californian selections, the temperature-controlled wine cellar also has a few Spanish, Australian, and Italian bottles tucked away. The cellar also stores a few cases of bubbly for the prix-fixe Sunday brunch’s bottomless champagne special, ensuring a festive follow-up to the smooth live jazz that plays every Friday and Saturday night.