I moved to Encinitas in 1995 and the dining scene in the area was nothing compared to what is going on here today. The big news at that time was the pending arrival of a team of hotshot chefs including Tom Atkins arriving from San Francisco to open the much anticipated Bellefleur at the Carlsbad Premium Outlet Stores in 1996.
My good friend, Chef Michael Zonfrilli, was on that team that opened the restaurant and it brought wine country cuisine to coastal North County on a large scale.
It was quite the place to see and be seen back in the day.
Vern and Mary Taylor were part of an original group of prominent North County residents and business leaders to invest in the new restaurant, Bellefleur.
After the strong opening, they, like many restaurants, faced some challenges in the form of increased competition — they were not the only high end game in town any more.
The Taylors emerged as the sole owners of Bellefleur and continue to operate the restaurant today and while it may not have the same cache as it did back in the day, it’s still a very nice place to eat with a menu that has evolved to suit the ever evolving North County dining scene.
Bellefleur went from a perceived “very special occasion” destination to an all-welcoming environment that features menu selections that range from gourmet to hamburgers. Their Sunday Champagne Brunch serves more than 500 guests on a typical Sunday and offers complimentary champagne.
The patio is pet-friendly and the private banquet room is popular with local businesses and organizations for events as it holds up to 140 people. Bellefleur has always been a nice space with its winery look and feel. I’ve always made it a point to stop in when hitting up some of my favorite stores at the outlet mall, especially Le Cruset, which is worth the trip in itself.
The lunch and dinner offerings span a wide variety of salads, chicken dishes, beef specialties and seafood. We started with the charbroiled New Zealand Lamb Chops dusted in mild Cajun spice with a roasted red pepper sauce.
This app could easily pass for an entrée as it’s quite substantial. Between that and the seared Ahi tuna glazed with a teriyaki, soy, and citrus sauce we could have called it a meal, but it was prime rib night and it had been ages since I’ve tried that so I had to give it a go.
I had to do a bit of research to refresh myself on exactly what prime rib is. Turns out it comes from the same section of cattle as a rib-eye, as does standing rib roast and rib steaks.
Even though the name says prime rib, many places do not require it to come from USDA Prime cuts of beef, so what you could be eating was actually a slice of a standing rib roast or a beef rib roast if it was boneless.
A true prime rib would be a rib roast from USDA prime beef. Because it is cooked as a roast and not a steak, it can be served medium rare throughout the slice you are served, with no crust of seared meat on the outside, as a steak would have. Because the rib section houses the most flavorful cuts, it tends to be more expensive. Got all that?
I had our very accommodating server place my hunk of meat over the steak cut fries to give it a prime rib frites feel and it was delicious. My dining companion went for the filet mignon and ordered rare and they accommodated her temperature request perfectly. I should note that our server also suggested a Francis Coppola red blend that worked very nicely with all of our dishes. Entrées range from $17 to $34.
We topped off this feast with a nice bread pudding that was again, paired well with a tawny port.
Chef Pedro Ayala and General Manager Blair Clabes have been working together at various locations since 1997 and that experience shows at Bellefleur. There is a very popular bar area with daily happy hours food and drink specials. Hours, location, and the full menu can be found at bellefleur.com.
Lick the Plate can now be heard on KPRi, 102.1 FM Monday-Friday during the 7pm hour.
David Boylan is founder of Artichoke Creative and Artichoke Apparel, an Encinitas based marketing firm and clothing line. Reach him at email@example.com or (858) 395-6905.