New Offerings are on the Table for this Renowned Mendocino Institution
by Anna Levy
photos by Ree Slocum
Café Beaujolais itself is not a secret, but the venerable Mendocino institution that celebrated its 50th year in 2018 has some surprises in store these days, even for those who know it well. With a young executive chef excited to balance tradition with innovation, it seems that this local favorite is determined to bring a sense of discovery both to those who visit Mendocino and to those who call it home.
Two years ago, Julian Lopez and his parents, Peter and Melissa, were seeking a new venture. Peter and Melissa were looking towards retirement and knew they wanted to leave Los Angeles, where Peter was a silent partner in an Italian restaurant. They’d visited Mendocino over the years and quickly learned that Café Beaujolais was for sale. Julian remembers thinking, “We can’t really turn this down,” as he recognized that the restaurant—known for excellent meals and white tablecloth service—was beloved for good reason.
Still, as he prepared to take over the kitchen, it felt a little daunting. “I knew I needed to be patient,” he remembers. “Instead of just jumping in, like a bull in a china shop, we took the long-term plan where we wanted to do this slowly.” Though he’d formally studied business, Julian had been an informal culinary student for years, starting with his family’s restaurant when he was 13 and eventually working his way through restaurants in Washington, California, Italy, and France.
“I’ve been exposed to a lot of different chefs and a lot of different techniques,” he says, “and when it’s something that you love, you tend to learn.” Coming to Mendocino has continued that journey, as Julian has gotten to know local purveyors—such as Fortunate Farms, Wavelength Farms, and Magruder Ranch—and chefs. He talks appreciatively about his neighbors at Luna Trattoria, and he credits Mark Bowery, of the Albion River Inn, with helping him learn about Mendocino County’s wines.
“Anderson Valley wines are just phenomenal,” he says. “We’re so lucky.” To complement local options on the wine list, Julian turns towards those he came to love while working in Europe, from French regions such as Burgundy and the Rhône Valley, as well as those from Spain and Italy.
It is, in fact, his desire to honor what is local while maintaining a global perspective that characterizes Julian's approach to Café Beaujolais. The menus, which change regularly and are designed very much with the seasons in mind, aim to appeal to both those seeking a fine dining experience as well as those looking for excellent, yet more casual, fare.
One example of this is the Monday Night Dinner (November through April) that Julian implemented last year. “The idea was that I wanted to do comfort food from around the world,” he says, and he keeps it affordable. The result? A weekly prix-fixe menu of two courses, including a vegetarian option, from various cultures for only $15, served alongside the regular menu. “We wanted to challenge our staff and myself, and we’re booked every single night.” In addition, Julian is exploring the option of offering a set menu to go, for those who don’t want to cook but who want to enjoy their meals at home.
Julian is also excited about expanding their pizza lunches, served Friday through Sunday out of the ‘brikery’ in the back. Though there is some outdoor seating, all orders are taken at the counter or over the phone, and the bulk of the business has been takeaway. The model is simple: a changing menu that includes a couple of salads and five different, affordable pizzas, along with a few options for drinks. At least two or three of the pizzas highlight “seasonality,” as Julian puts it, with recent options that have included garlicky marinated kale; house made spicy pork sausage; pesto with snap peas, fava bean tips, lemon confit, and homemade chevre; and the Indian-inspired turmeric pizza, with a base of curry sauce and toppings of roasted cauliflower, kale, and sun-dried tomatoes. “It’s really fun because we get to use a lot of different ingredients and fun ideas,” Julian reflects.
Even as they look toward making changes, Julian and his family recognize that it’s important to honor the success that has helped build Café Beaujolais’ reputation. To that end, at dinner it’s possible to still find the local Macgruder Ranch steak tartare appetizer, roast chicken and ribeye for main courses, and coconut cream pie and a cheese plate for dessert. Yet alongside those items are such options as a wild-foraged cream of chanterelle soup; local black cod and herb lentil cakes; house made fruit sorbets and a deeply rich chocolate pot de crème. It’s clear throughout, from the aperitifs—such as the delicate, effervescent 961 Ukiah—to the after-dinner drinks—including Thanksgiving coffee—that precision is paramount throughout.
“We want to appease those people who have been here for so long, who have created this community,” Julian says, “and then also try to bring an edge that will be beneficial in the long run.” If it's been a while since you've crossed the threshhold of this sweet yellow Victorian on Ukiah Street, a visit is in order. Whether for a pizza lunch in the garden, a convivial Monday night dinner, or an intimate dining experience influenced by global favorites and local resources, it’s sure to be a meal to remember.
961 Ukiah St, Mendocino | (707) 937-5614 | www.cafebeaujolais.com
Dinner open daily 5:30–9:00pm Lunch Wed–Sun 11:30am–2:30pm. Reservations recommended.
The Brikery Pizza Fri-Sun 11:30am–3:00pm Hours may expand in the summer.
Anna Levy writes, cooks, and plans travel of all sorts whenever she can. She lives on the Mendocino Coast with her husband and two dogs.
Ree Slocum is a fine art freelance photographer and writer who calls the wilds of Mendocino County home. She takes pleasure living with bird song, the breathing fog, and wildlife’s cast of characters when not on assignments. Ree can be reached at reeslocumphotography com.