The newly opened Cafe Champagne at Culbertson Winery in Temecula stands alone in what is otherwise a culinary void. An enviable position, true, but also one that carries a certain responsibility for setting a standard that others will follow.
Fortunately, owner Martha Culbertson, who will run the restaurant, is no novice. Nor is her executive chef, Dennis Barry. Their efforts have created a casual, comfortable atmosphere in which to enjoy the eclectic menu, designed to complement the winery's products. Even more impressive, quality is high, yet prices are moderate.
Cafe Champagne opens daily at 11 a.m. and serves continuously until 9 p.m. The indoor area seats 70 and features large windows across the front that overlook the Culbertson and neighboring vineyards. In warm weather, there's additional seating for 65 on the adjacent outdoor patio.
The menu capitalizes on Barry's French training but shows Southwest influences. Soup, fish and dessert selections are not printed, so advantage may be taken of available ingredients.
A predominance of the appetizers, salads, entrees and sandwiches are grilled over a combination of mesquite wood and grapevines. The staff has perfected this technique, so that foods are cooked, yet still moist and juicy. Grapevines are also used for smoking the chicken used in two menu items.
Partly because of their isolated location but also by choice, the restaurant is trying to be as self-sufficient as possible. They make their own stocks, grow fresh herbs and make all the breads and desserts served.
Culbertson sparkling wines as well as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc still wines are available by the glass or bottle. They also offer a tasting, where smaller amounts of all five sparking wines are poured for comparison.
Cafe Champagne is obviously doing things right, because during each of the first two weekends they were open, more than 1,000 meals were served. Until a visit to the restaurant is possible, enjoy this sampling of recipes.
MIXED SEAFOOD GRILL
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons minced shallots
1 pound, 2-ounces scallops
1 pound, 2-ounces salmon
1 pound, 2 ounces swordfish
1 pound, 2-ounces hot, cooked linguine
30 stalks cooked small asparagus
Whole-Grain Mustard Sauce
Combine olive oil, lemon juice, shallots and salt and pepper to taste. Add scallops to mixture and marinate 2 to 4 hours.
Remove scallops from marinade. Divide each of scallops, salmon and swordfish into 6 (3-ounce) servings. Thread onto water-soaked bamboo skewers, if desired. Grill seafood over moderate heat to desired degree of doneness.
For each serving, place 3-ounces linguine and 5 stalks asparagus on 1 side of heated plate. Pour about 1/4 cup Whole-Grain Mustard Sauce next to linguine and vegetables. Arrange 1 (3-ounce) portion of each type seafood over sauce. Makes 6 servings.
Whole-Grain Mustard Sauce
1 cup dry white wine
1 cups white vermouth
2 tablespoons chopped shallots
2 cups whipping cream
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons whole-grain mustard
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Combine wine, vermouth and shallots in saucepan. Bring to boil and cook until reduced to 1/2 cup. Add cream and reduce to sauce consistency. Strain.
Whisk in mustard, lemon juice and butter. Season to taste with salt and white pepper. Makes 1 1/2 cups sauce.
GRILLED CHICKEN BREAST SANDWICH WITH TARRAGON MAYONNAISE
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons crushed dried tarragon
2 tablespoons butter
4 teaspoons minced shallots
2 cups mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
6 (8-ounce) whole boneless chicken breasts
6 homemade or commercial sandwich buns
6 lettuce leaves
6 slices tomato, optional
Combine vinegar and tarragon in small saucepan. Bring to boil and cook until reduced to 1/2. Melt butter in small skillet and saute shallots until tender.
Combine mayonnaise, tarragon reduction, sauteed shallots and white pepper, mixing well. Set aside.
Remove all skin and fat from chicken breasts. Pound slightly with fine side of meat tenderizing mallet. Cut in half down natural seam, eliminating any cartilage at center. Season chicken with salt and pepper to taste.
Grill chicken over moderate heat to internal temperature of 180 degrees, turning once and basting with about 1 tablespoon reserved mayonnaise mixture per side. Slice and warm sandwich buns.
Spread inside of buns generously with mayonnaise mixture. Place 2 pieces chicken on bottom of bun and top with lettuce, tomato and other half of bun. Makes 6 servings.
SMOKED CHICKEN SALAD
1 whole smoked chicken
20 stalks small asparagus
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
Mixed salad greens
Basmati Rice Salad
Disjoint smoked chicken. Remove skin and fat. Slice breast meat and julienne balance. Steam asparagus until tender-crisp, then chill immediately in ice water.
Toss walnuts in small amount olive oil and toast in 350 degree oven. Do not overbrown or nuts will be bitter. Drain asparagus.