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Patrick Ponsaty steps into the limelight.

The chef’s artful plating at Bellamy’s.

The Ranch is nestled into the Escondido hills.

The New Frontier

A taste of S.D.’s culinary Escondido?

When acclaimed chef Patrick Ponsaty looks at the stony hillsides of Escondido, he thinks of one place: home. The Frenchman, a native of Toulouse in the arid southern Midi-Pyrénées, hopes to transform The Ranch at Bandy Canyon—an oasis of an event space where, for now, the chef caters on behalf of Bellamy’s, his downtown Escondido restaurant—into a dining destination reminiscent of the gîtes of France. Or maybe Napa. Think Thomas Keller, but without the attitude: A charming 1880s adobe structure on the property madeover as a temple to farm-driven gastronomy, a cave for Ponsaty’s collection of vintage Armagnac, and a menu boasting Ponsaty’s refined, lyrical cooking. Every bit as sparkling as Keller’s, it earned Ponsaty the extremely prestigious title Meilleurs Ouvrier de France in 2012, one of only two in S.D. and 10 in California ever to earn such distinction.

That the soft-spoken Frenchman capable of such accomplishment hasn’t clamored to celebrity status is surely a factor of temperament, not talent. While the tantalizing long-term vision of The Ranch takes form, at Bellamy’s there’s already the thrill of a master chef cooking in a veritable hole in the wall, like The Beatles playing a set at your local roadhouse. A redesign of what’s now a rather plain and dated dining room is planned here for the near future, but the menu, by turns approachable and inspired, is already impeccable: a quenelle of magenta-hued Suzie’s Farm beet sorbet with filaments of watercress and a disk of goat cheese; local mushrooms and sea scallops in a lightly truffle-scented carpaccio; bacon-wrapped monkfish with morels; duck sauvage, wild boar and Spanish hare appearing as the seasons turn; cherry-spiked gâteau Basque and tender canelés from Bordeaux—a pastry head and shoulders above frilly macarons—on the dessert menu. In response to that inevitable food writer’s question, “How would you describe your style of cuisine?” Ponsaty just laughs and responds simply, “French.”

This understated classic cooking defined Ponsaty’s time as executive chef at the former El Bizcocho at Rancho Bernardo Inn, a tenure that was marked by his tutelage of wunderkind Gavin Kaysen. In 2003, he coached the upstart talent to a ranking of third overall in the world in the National Trophy of Cuisine and Pastry in Paris. In 2004, Kaysen took his job. Since then, for gastronomes, their respectful rivalry has been an enticing battle royale, with Kaysen becoming, well, Kaysen, and Ponsaty quietly moving on to other lauded ventures and accolades, including La Bastide, Bernard’O, Mistral at Loews Coronado Bay Resort and, of course, the MOF.

If at Bellamy’s and The Ranch, Ponsaty at last strides into the limelight, he’ll have his El Bizcocho period to credit: Bandy Canyon owner Brian Bonar (his stepdaughter, Gianina Pickens, has been handed the day-to-day reins of Bellamy’s) was a dedicated fan and Ponsaty loyalist who’s given the chef a taste of what Ponsaty says he’s craved most over his career, “Freedom.” Ponsaty’s a collaborator on all aspects of Bellamy’s, The Ranch and even a downtown pizza venture, The Italian Next Door by Bellamy’s, a tiptoe into downtown that could bloom into more in the former Croce’s space. Call it Ponsaty’s la vie en rose period. It’s about time.

Bellamy’s Restaurant
417 W. Grand Ave., 760.747.5000

The Ranch at Bandy Canyon
16251 Bandy Canyon Road, 760.871.6494