As a youngster, Renee-Nicole Kubin was quick to catch on to the world of hospitality, specifically when it came to the art of fine food and wines - and it didn’t hurt she was the daughter of world renowned restaurateur Erna Kubin-Clanin, owner of Erna’s Elderberry House in Oakhurst.
“I knew at a very young age that I would follow in my mother, Ms. Erna’s, footsteps, and find my career in the hospitality industry,” said Renee-Nicole. “When I graduated from Yosemite High School in 1986, I moved to Fresno where I fell in love with the wine industry. At age 17 I knew that I wanted to be a sommelier. At the time, that was not a well known word ... I am one of the first female sommeliers in the country.”
With formal training from the Guild of Master Sommeliers, Renee-Nicole worked for the next 23 years as a sommelier and in management in some the the country’s finest restaurants including Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago, Highland’s Inn in Carmel, the Mandarin Oriental and Gary Dankos in San Francisco, One & Only Palmilla in Los Cabos, Mexico, and Larry Ellison’s flagship Malibu restaurant as well as his Four Seasons property in Hawaii.
“After all my travels, I returned home to the Mountain Area in order to help my mother and be part of the Elderberry Estate team,” Renee-Nicole said. “I took over as the general manager for the entire estate last year.”
Changes at the estate
Known for prix-fixe five-course dinners at $100 +, Erna’s is now offering a three-course menu for $52 on Tuesday nights and an a la carte menu.
“I have implemented many exciting changes such as an a la carte menu so that whether guests visit for Sunday brunch or dinner on any night of the week, they can have just soup and salad, just a main course, or just come in for dessert,” said the enthusiastic Renee-Nicole. “There is now lots of flexibility and the menu is friendlier for every day and casual dining, with prices starting at $12. It’s still Erna’s, but I think of it as Erna’s 2.0.”
A change that is upcoming this winter, will be special mid-week lodging rates for Mountain Area guests.
“We would love to have area residents come stay at the Château for a night and see what the property is all about,” Renee-Kubin said. “Our spa is also open to the public and we offer local discounts.”
Renee-Nicole’s mother is quite happy with the changes and happy to have her back at the property.
“I’m thrilled to have my daughter back home,” Erna said. “She comes back with a drove of hospitality and food and beverage hands-on experience, something you don’t learn in school. I know the property will be benefiting from that experience as she has already brought some new ideas and has made some beneficial changes including opening the Cellar Bar/Pub to the public and introducing an a la carte menu in the dinning room.”
With a smile, Erna said with Renee-Nicole taking on many responsibilities at the property, “it will allow a little more free time for myself in the future.”
Renee-Nicole said one of the most fun changes is the addition of Friday and Saturday night ‘Pub Nights.’
“We have the most gorgeous Cellar Bar/Pub and it was sitting relatively empty… but not anymore,” Renee-Nicole said. “We were lucky to have Shane Marone join our team as mixologist and now we have lots of fun on the weekends.”
Marrone has been behind a few bars in the Mountain Area, but he didn’t start making pomegranate blossoms or elderitas (a margarita with an elderberry nectar) until he upped his game at the cozy, 22-seat bar.
The congenial Marrone, a graduate of National Bar Tending School in Victorville in 2004, moved to Oakhurst in 2007 to work at Erna’s in catering and special events as a contracted barman for three years. He has served cocktails at Tenaya Lodge, The Pines Resort, Narrow Gauge Inn, and Roman’s Bar at Crabe Cakes Restaurant.
“Coming to Erna’s and overseeing the Pub has been my most challenging and rewarding job in my career,” Marrone said on a recent Saturday evening standing behind the bar in his black suit accented with a red silk handkerchief and red tie. “It’s certainly a different atmosphere than anywhere else I have worked, and it’s been great to introduce people to exquisite cocktails and fine dining.
Like the main dining room, the Cellar Bar/Pub has recently introduced a reasonably priced Bar Bites menu that is available 5-8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights, featuring the pub burger made with Brandt Farms organic beef filet on a Brioche bun ($12), and a grilled Gruyere cheese sandwich and tomato soup ($12).
Erna’s has been a multi-year recipient of Wine Spectator magazine’s Best of Excellence award, and Renee-Nicole has enlarged the restaurant’s wine selection to 730 labels representing the finest wines from California and around the world.
Upcoming special dinners
Two upcoming dinners with specially designed menus by Executive Chef Jonathon Perkins are the Elderberry Harvest Dinner on Sunday, July 23, and An Evening in Vienna on Sunday, Aug. 20. The menus can be seen online.
NOTE: For a short video featuring Renee Kubin and Shane Marrone, go to www.sierrastar.com.