Chef images courtesy of Avant and Rancho Bernardo Inn
Perched overlooking emerald green fairways, verdant views stretching for miles, Avant occupies a distinctive place in San Diego’s dining scene. For over 40 years, the second story space at the Rancho Bernardo Inn was home to El Bizcocho, a French fine dining and special occasion destination. In 2012, a $2 million dollar transformation nixed the white tablecloths and old world romance in favor of modern décor and more approachable price points.
In February, the property took another step forward with the appointment of Christopher Gentile as Chef de Cuisine of Avant.
At 28, Gentile has accumulated a wealth of experience in the restaurant industry.
In his teens and early 20s, he travelled thousands of miles to stage at Michelin-starred locations across the country before moving to San Diego, where he climbed the ranks at Searsucker, Herringbone, Gabardine, Nine-Ten, and L’Auberge del Mar.
Gentile then gained critical acclaim at Double Standard downtown before opening a wildly successful Italian cucina in Scottsdale.
In his new position, the spirited cook hopes to achieve his ultimate goal: a Michelin star.
“I’m giving my heart and soul to this place. Especially with Michelin in town, we have the ability here to push and do something special,” he said.
One distinct advantage of working at the property is the chef’s garden, tended by Trish Kydd.
There, chefs forage for heirloom tomatoes, corn, fragrant herbs, edible flowers, hot peppers, stone fruit, berries, melons, cherries, and apples that find their way into drinks, savory plates, and desserts.
Gentile takes full advantage of the garden, using the season’s abundance as inspiration to find new ways to present the harvest.
The butternut squash is one example. A bumper crop led to the creation of a memorable small plate of sous vide butternut squash with brown butter vinaigrette, red pepper chimichurri, brown butter powder, sage crème fraiche, parmesan cheese, and catnip, which lends a lemony-basil flavor.
“When we have a new crop, it all ripens at once, so we have to find fun ways to preserve it. I have about 40 jars of pickles fermenting in the kitchen right now. It’s pretty awesome,” Gentile said.
Other plates showcase Gentile’s elaborate and elemental cooking style. Salsify from the garden is presented in four different forms (pickled, charred, butter-roasted, and pureed into a savory soubise), then garnished with three preparations of watercress (fresh, powdered, and infused in oil). Rye breadcrumbs provides additional texture and seasoning.
Some dishes are interactive, with a touch of whimsy. Ricotta gnudi arrives in a bowl that resembles a plant pot, complete with bright nasturtium blossoms sprouting from summer truffle “soil”. Use your spoon to unearth the tender dumplings buried beneath the crunchy top layer, along with diced tomato, eggplant, and corn—all sourced from the chef’s garden.
Meat and fish-forward entrees make good use of the garden too.
A striking plate of California king salmon is surrounded by garden-sourced zucchini and summer squash, fresh and crispy squash blossom leaves, pickled mustard seeds, and artichokes, while a tender slab of Pacific halibut arrives with a crunchy seed crust reminiscent of an Everything bagel, with okra, tomatoes, matsutake, and a clarified matsutake tomato dashi broth.
The butter-basted American wagyu striploin is a crowd favorite. Garden-grown shishito peppers, sweet and tangy pepperonata, and sunchokes braised in wagyu fat surround the tender cuts of beef, while caramelized white soy demi and black sesame powder take the plate in an Asian direction.