The Bittersweet Bistro is a dream come true for chef Thomas Vinolus and his wife Elizabeth. Housed in an idyllic stone and stucco building in Rio Del Mar, the restaurant boasts a mahogany bar, bistro style booths, fireplaces and a spacious, sleek, neutral-toned dining room dressed in white linen. The focus of the interior is the glow of the open kitchen at the back of the softly lit dining room. With a casual atmosphere the Bittersweet Bistro offers a comfortable and delicious dining experience.
Chef Thomas Vinolus was born in Missouri and spent his formative years in Battle Creek, Michigan. Growing up, in a large family, he enjoyed cooking at home. His Greek and Polish heritage exposed him to a love of hospitality combined with food. He continued to cook for friends throughout college and, upon graduation, saw the natural combination of his business education and his love of cooking as a means to go into business for himself.
Thomas’ first cooking position was at the Hilton Hotel in Irvine, California where he was introduced to the use of superior ingredients in fine dining and pastry making. From there, he honed his skills at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. Following was an internship at Aureole’s in New York City and a period at Casanova’s in Carmel where he met his business and life partner, Elizabeth.
Upon opening his first restaurant, Café Bittersweet in Santa Cruz, Chef Vinolus developed his style of cooking which is American Bistro Cuisine using high quality fresh ingredients with a special emphasis on local products. His immaculate kitchens yield the smells of stocks and sauces being reduced to their essence. Thomas speaks of “sticking to the basics” with the main courses keeping them simple yet elegant so the quality of the ingredients can be highlighted. But, he adds, we like to end our meals with the flourish and flash of a memorable dessert artistically presented and delicious in taste. As with his main courses all parts of the desserts are prepared from scratch and composed on the plate just prior to serving. Consequently, his desserts are justly famous for their delicious presentation and taste.
His personal involvement from selecting fresh fish daily to procuring organic produce at the local farmers markets, is reflected in the consistent quality and seasonal variety in the menu. Chef Vinolus sees his restaurant as serving a local crowd depending on return customers rather than a tourist based clientele. Hospitality and knowledge of each regular customer’s preferences are evident with the entire staff of the restaurant working as a team to create a welcoming atmosphere and a memorable and satisfying dining experience.
His ongoing plans include the development of a composting system, and traveling to bring back fresh ideas while continuing to develop and refine his skills as a chef.