Simply Fondue's intimate, chandelier-lit dining room plays host to tabletop pots that bubble with warm imported cheeses, oils, and broths. The restaurant's cheese fondues from Switzerland, the Mediterranean, and England allow diners to taste the world's flavors without having to lick every country's flag. The eatery also simmers traditional canola and broth fondue using individual "fondue grills," which sear each morsel for lighter munching. For each entree, chefs pair simmering helpings with platters of meat, seafood, or veggies, all of which can be altered upon request.
Many meals conclude with chocolate fondue, which features an impressive coterie of sweets such as pound cake, triple-chunk brownies, peanut-butter balls, and fresh pineapple chunks plucked from the hats of local conga dancers. The dining experience stays casual throughout with plush red booths and upholstered bar stools set against textured stone walls.
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.
Flavors of San Juan Capistrano’s tours explore two somewhat different things: food and history. You’ll be able to expand both your palate and your historical know-how on each casual, fun tour, so you can ultimately get a better understanding of San Juan Captistrano as a whole, which was built by some of the earliest inhabitors of California. Groups of up to 12 people will go to food tastings at renowned area restaurants such as Hidden House Coffee and Mission Grill. Between restaurants, you’ll take in local lore during visits to historical spots.
With advanced notice, the 3-4-hour tours can accommodate vegetarians and Spanish-speaking people, and groups with at least eight people can arrange private tours. Certain locations also offer beer, wine, and fork tastings for an additional fee.
Thai Juan On features a menu that is chock-full of authentic Thai taste foundations, slightly altered to fit the grooves of American Thai eaters' taste buds. Kick things off with the likes of crispy noodle/mee krob ($6.95), before diving mouth-first into the rest of the menu. The dinner terrain covers more than 40 soup, noodle, rice, and entree dishes, including the magnificent noodle/mee phat num prik poa, which melds egg noodles with shrimp, scallop, calamari, and veggies ($15.95). The mermaid's dowry/pla prik lets diners sample the spicy taste of grilled sole, bell peppers, carrots, mushrooms, and onions before awkwardly explaining to their parents that they're in love with a human-fish hybrid. Thai Juan On's daily lunch menu features midday palate jolts like the Crying Tiger ($9.95)—grilled beef with spicy lime sauce—and the Red Devil ($10.95), spicy beef masaman curry with potato and onion.