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 Daniel Reynolds, 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.