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El Bizcocho Has Become Wonderland

Chef Ryan Grant.
Photo by Stephen Persitza

The radiant El Bizcocho restaurant at the equally radiant Rancho Bernardo Inn is an interesting combination of old-school tradition mixed with quirky fun and attitude. The latter comes from the whimsical nature of its new chef de cuisine, Ryan Grant. He's already won local and national awards, and had a recent run as a sous chef on Iron Chef America. This guy is definitely not shy and brings a distinct breath of life into what typically has been a, well, stuffier setting and ambiance.

Therein lays the unique scenario El Bizcocho has created for itself. The grand Spanish hacienda setting remains completely intact and wraps itself around you with comfy furnishing and reflections from live fireplaces casting images off the white washed walls. The dining area encompasses a large space with high-ceilings, accented by dark, deep wood with comfortable charm and decor. Cozy table settings are spaced well apart so your private conversations remain private. Another massive fireplace separates the room from the outside world and entrance while windows looking out over spacious grounds allow for splendid viewing. Elegance, style and taste round out the setting and experience at El Bizcocho.

Then comes the fun part, and that would be Chef Ryan.

Chef Ryan brings an eclectic, eccentric, robust diversity of fare to this time-proven establishment, truly setting the place afire. It’s not just in the dishes he creates, but the almost performance-art style of presentation that makes you take notice (you don’t find yourself on Iron Chef for nothing). There are many ways to approach your dining experience at El Bizcocho. You can select from the simple but well rounded daily menu (mid $30 range for the entrees), choose from their daily Prix Fixe menu (3-course $45;4-course $55) or, for the brave, take advantage of Chef Ryan’s’ Ex Nihilo Omaskase offerings which loosely translates to “out of nothing” and “trust the chef” (5-course $85; or 7-course $120, yes that says 7 courses, yummy but ouch). We couldn’t help but resist the temptation of having the chef prepare a meal based on his whim and fancy, so Ex Nihilo Omaskase it was.

Think of a very talented chef who decides to cook with all of the charms and possibilities at his disposal and that perfectly describes the evening. It was almost as if he was cooking for himself and the diner received the experience as a privy guest. The great thing, too, is the chef does incorporate some daily menu items into his woven showcase so you can still get a sense of what El Bizcocho can offer.

The evening started out with Chef Ryan’s’delicious beverage called the “Mad Hatter”, which was basically a “Manhattan” gone wild (hmm, sorta like the chef himself). The preparation came out on a wheeled cart with dry ice smoke wafting over the sides. Talk about an entrance. It was delicious and came with a dropper filled with fresh herbs to add at your leisure, and honeydew melon carved into an olive like garnish. Alice & Wonderland has nothing on this guy.

What followed was a wonderland (sorry but it is a perfect analogy for the meal and the chef's mannerisms, can someone say Johnny Depp?) of crazy combinations, off-the-cuff presentations and whimsical blending of flavors. By the time the evening was completed our palettes had confronted a wonderful barrage of culinary magnificence.

An homage to the Grand Slam.
Photo by Stephen Persitza

Some of the unique dishes that proved delicious beyond compare were the origami of hamachi, a summer melon salad with pomegranate ponzu, spring crudo, tea sandwich and pickled watermelon rind that had origami shapes made from the food items (another regular menu item). Fresh, fruity, fun and scrumptious! Another fave was the carpaccio of Spanish octopus, pickled and grilled suction cups with smoked oil (from their fireplace), 30 second bread and paccio pepper and heirloom tomato salad. This dish was another curious experience that worked so well, packing a punch of heat and then coolness between the different complexities of the dish. We told you this wasn’t your usual dining experience.

Another piece of magic was Chef Ryan’shomage to Denny’s “Grand Slam.” How about an amuse bouche consisting of three corn blinis, sautéed foie gras between each, accompanied by a sunny-side-up quail egg, golden Osetra caviar, crouton-crisp potatoes and two lardons of bacon served in a mini cast iron skillet? Talk about a delightful, brilliant, feisty and a wonderful explosion of nuances. Now that’s a “throw down.”

Savory courses continued to captivate our imagination and palettes. Close your eyes and you can almost taste the combination plate of two main dishes including Short Ribs and Kobe Beef. The short ribs are 36-hour slow cooked with puree of artichoke, foie gras pop rocks (yes you read that correctly), crispy maitake mushrooms complete with seared Kobe beef. The dish components says it all, WOW! Creative, retro (pop rocks, really? And yet how fun), savory…..the flavors just never seemed to stop.

Desserts continued the decadence with the passion fruit soufflé with mango sorbet, which was fresh and tangy and a good ‘ol favorite take on milk and cookies consisting of a chocolate chip cookie, dulce de leche cream and vanilla malted milk shake. Do we really need to say more? Sigh.

The experiences that await you at El Bizcocho are not unlike Alice in Wonderland’s quandary of what “eat me” item to nosh on. There are numerous options before you and what you want to “nibble” is yours to choose. We’re so pleased to have our own culinary mad scientist in residence here is San Diego. Chef Ryan’s departure from Jean-George’s Manhattan kitchens is truly a gift that you should partake in at least once in your life. We think he wears the furry, white Porkpie hat every night so it won’t be hard to pick him out.

Details »
  • City: Rancho Bernardo
  • Phone: 858-675-8550
  • Name: El Bizcocho
  • Address: 17550 Bernardo Oaks Drive