I met Ivan Derezin several years ago when I wrote about his first restaurant Churchill’s and had him on the show back in the KPRI days. I remembered him being one of those guests who made me wish the show had a much longer format as our conversation flowed from food to music to beer and whiskey to current events in a manner that was easy and always interesting.
In short, Ivan is a smart guy with a lot of great stories, and that’s exactly the kind of guests I like to bring on the show.
Ivan is a San Diego native and had a life in finance prior to becoming a restaurateur. As an economics major at UCLA he followed in the footsteps of his dad and became a CPA after graduation then moved back down to the San Diego area. Churchill’s began with a group of investors then eventually ended up with Ivan as the sole owner. It was a success off the bat and enabled his second project, The Bellows to come to fruition.
While Churchill’s is in the more established part of San Marcos right on the main drag, The Bellows is in the area adjacent to Cal State San Marcos where neighborhoods are sprouting up around it.
There was definitely a need for a restaurant of the non-chain variety in this area and the econ major in Ivan noticed that early on. I should note that it has been open for three years now and since then has established quite a following in North County. And for those of you who are not familiar with the term “Bellows” which included me, it’s the squeezable air device used to stoke fires. And that is very applicable here given the wood-fired oven that is used to cook a good portion of the menu.
The wood-fired oven provides an amazing aroma upon entering The Bellows, enhancing my appetite in a manner that only burning wood can do. The interior has a gastro pub feel with a huge dose of originality and quirkiness. It’s a great looking space with a substantial bar area, booths, tables and plenty of outdoor seating. While The Bellows has more of an emphasis on wine, with an amazing list by the glass or bottle, it would not be Ivan’s place without a healthy craft beer and cocktail selection.
The menu is right up my alley with a great selection of cheese, house-made and artisan-cured charcuterie and, get this, a ham tasting! I can’t say that I’ve seen a ham tasting like this in North County with Spain, Italy and Iowa represented. It’s a really nice touch and something to experience for sure.
I could have spent the entire evening on the starter plate section of the menu but ended up splitting the meatballs and game hen. The Wood-Fired Meatballs with dry aged beef, lamb, pork and a pomodoro sauce with Parmesan and herbs were just like they sound, freaking amazing. I’m a huge fan of small game birds to start meals and their Crispy Game Hen with Ginger-Soy & Herbs was a perfect representation of the category. Grilled Broccolini was also a flavorful and healthy treat.
Flatbreads are represented nicely and the wood fire makes all the difference here. The Grilled Chicken & Artichoke Hearts with goat cheese, red onion, herb pesto and Parmesan was loaded with toppings.
It was a difficult choice as there are half a dozen flatbreads and they all look enticing. We did not make it to the salad section but the Salad Lyonnaise with Frisee, fried egg, Niman Ranch bacon croutons and Dijon vinaigrette, is on my short list for lunch soon.
Entrées also proved to be a difficult choice given the selections ranging from House-Made Sausages with Roasted Apples to Wood-Fired Short Rib Pot Roast to the 35 Day Dry-Aged Niman Ranch NY Steak Tuscan Style to the vegetarian selection of Cauliflower “Steak” with Saffron Butter Sauce. I went with my standby of a Niman Ranch Flat Iron Steak Frites and my guest had the Wood Oven-Roasted Prawns with Polenta and Brussels leaves. The steak was tender and cooked to perfection and the prawns were giant and delicious.
For dessert we actually did it French style and had some nice cheese to wrap up our evening. I will make note again of the extensive wine list that Ivan describes as “offering a sense of discovery while exploring new, unique and interesting value-oriented wines from specialty producers which pair superbly with our cuisine.” Our server was well-versed on the offerings and his suggestions were spot on.
Prices range from $10 for the starters to $45 for the 35 Day Dry-Aged NY Steak with most entrees in the mid $20 range. For the quality of preparation and locally sourced ingredients, it’s a solid value.
The Bellows is located at 803 S Twin Oaks Valley Rd #107, San Marcos. Visit www.bellowswoodfire.com or call (760) 290-3912.