A couple of weeks ago, winemaker Randall Graham dropped a bombshell via Twitter: hisrestaurant, Le Cigare Volant, is closing as of Dec. 31. Graham is the man behind Bonny Doon Wines and LCV is the restaurant/tasting room for the winery.
Le Cigare Volant is hands down my favorite restaurant in Santa Cruz. Bk and I have never had a bad meal there, and it’s one of the only places around that was consistently cranking out innovative, delicious food. The location itself is also wonderful. In fact, it was largely the restaurant/tasting room that led me to become a member of the Bonny Doon wine club. One of the many perks of membership is that you get a discount on any wine you order while dining at the restaurant.
Unfortunately, running a restaurant and a winery has apparently become too hard to juggle and Santa Cruz will be losing an awesome culinary experience. I’m pretty crushed.
BK and I knew we needed to eat there one last time, and so he invited some coworkers and off we went last Friday for what would truly be one of the best meals I’ve had in along, long, long time.
The food was so good, in fact, that all of us basically stopped drinking wine to enjoy it, becoming so immersed in our food that we completely forget to sip from the glasses in front of us. Our formerly lively conversation died down, giving way to moans of pleasure and frequent exclamations of “oh god!” and “this is so good!” I hate using sexual terms to describe food, but it truly was an almost orgiastic dining experience. Hedonism, you terrible seductress you….
Even better, almost all of the menu is either gluten-free or can be made so.
We started out with a few orders of one of their trademark dishes, the potted smoked fingerling potatoes. Typically these come with some balsamic bread crumbs but I asked for it to be made GF and it was still completely delicious. I never would have thought that something as simple as a potato could take on such depth of flavor when smoked. I am a great advocate for more smoked potatoes to appear on local menus. The presentation of these, in a small flower pot, is playful and yet sophisticated too.
I found out that night that their flatbreads are made with almond flour and are also GF so I had to try one. That night, it was topped with brie, winter veggies and caramelized walnuts. The almond flour provided a great texture and just a bit of sweetness that paired excellently with the roasted veggies and the tang of the brie. The walnuts were a little too sweet for my tastes though. I needed something a little more savory.
We also got anorder of pickles for the table and the “Laughing Bird jerk shrimp with circulated egg, sweet potato puree and green papaya.” We almost didn’t get this and I’m so glad we changed our minds. That was easily the best jerk shrimp I’ve ever had.
For our mains, we split the flat-iron steak with house-cured pastrami and celery root along with a delicious pan-seared salmon paired with sun choke risotto and red wine reduction. Both were cooked perfectly and the skin of the salmon was beyond comparison. I don’t normally like salmon skin but this was done so absolutely perfectly. I also loved the play on a traditional horseradish sauce that accompanied the steak and I could have easily eaten a lot more of that house-made pastrami. Sweet lord!
We finished full and satisfied, and just a bit tipsy, with me gushingly declaring the meal to be “revelatory” in a number of text messages to friends and even a tweet. I felt dreamy, punch drunk, amazed.
It’s not cheap here. I think that’s probably part of the problem. I’ve also heard complaints about the portion sizes, though I can’t agree with that criticism. Either way, I’m incredibly sad to be losing this local gem but I can’t wait to see what chef Ryan Shelton does next. I can only hope he’ll stay around Santa Cruz…