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Jul 31st
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Dining

Restaurant dining and wine reviews for Santa Cruz County >
Menu Guide for Santa Cruz area.

Wine Reviews

Pelican Ranch Winery

Pelican Ranch Winery

Syrah 2009


Relocating to a new tasting room in Capitola turned out to be a good move for Pelican Ranch. Winery owners Phil and Peggy Crews now have much more space to host the many customers who visit them – and that is just what they need to show off their wonderful wines. When I visited them for their grand opening at the beginning of the year, they had set up tables outside with food, and for their annual wine club party at the end of August, it will be convenient for them to have this spacious area to spread out yet again.

This small family-owned winery specializes in Rhone and Burgundy-style wines with grapes harvested from prime vineyards.

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Dining Reviews

Welcome back to Rio

Welcome back to Rio

Good times are once again rolling at Cafe Rio

We couldn't get a dinner reservation until 7:30 on a Tuesday night, demonstrating that Cafe Rio has opened with a bang. Laughter filled the air as families finished their meals, while the numerous servers and staff members buzzed around the large dining area.

I sipped house cabernet ($5) from Butterfield Station, full of ripe berries, while dipping pieces of soft-crusted baguette in olive oil which was gently seasoned with bits of garlic and herbs.

B. & B. Seared Ahi Tuna ($16) appears as an appetizer at dinner and also on the bar menu. Strips of fish with smoky charred surfaces and watermelon-pink interiors were served with searing soy mustard dressing on a bed of sautéed onions and multicolored bell peppers.

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Dining Reviews

Midtown Marketplace

Midtown Marketplace

I first met Chef Joshua Server in 2008 at the Live Oak Farmers Market where he was cooking brunch from his Conscious Creations Catering booth. I feasted upon his bright, fruit-topped, muffin-like Coconut-Kahlua Banana Pancakes with natural maple syrup.

In May, the name Conscious Creations Cafe appeared on the door of the old Black China Bakery Cafe on Soquel Avenue, and I've been eagerly awaiting the chance to sample more of Chef Joshua's organic specialties.

The patio is furnished with pale blue sofas, and inside, an attractive wraparound service counter with prep and display area has been added. The cafe will double as a market featuring local products. On this day there were beautiful candies from Ashby Confections of Aptos and Fruitful jellies made from central coast produce.

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Wine Reviews

Pleasant Valley Vineyards

Pleasant Valley Vineyards

Syrah 2008, Sean Boyle Family Reserve

Pleasant Valley Vineyards is making some splendid wines these days. Their Sean Boyle 2008 Syrah Family Reserve is absolutely top notch – and, at $40, is worth the splurge.

The grapes for this luscious beauty are grown at Lester Family Vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The Lester property is well worth a visit (see event info below) when the opportunity arises. Their acres and acres of perfectly tended vines – which, in turn, produce perfect grapes – is an awesome sight, indeed.

But back to the Syrah: As it says on the label, it is handcrafted from nurtured, hand-trained, de-leafed and harvested vines. It is then aged exclusively in small oak barrels, and bottled unfiltered and unfined – giving a richer and denser mouthfeel.

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Dining Reviews

Sampling Sichuan Spices

Sampling Sichuan Spices

The popular O'mei on Mission continues to dazzle diners with its array of flavors

For more than 30 years O'mei Restaurant has served its classy renditions of Chinese cuisine on busy Mission Street. It had been some time since I had visited, and was looking forward to its special brand of spiciness.

We were offered a dinner menu, a specials menu which included seasonal Chinese vegetables, and the express menu which included noodle bowls, sautées and chow mein.

We chose two appetizers ($3) from a tray of six. String beans were mixed with plenty of garlic. Tanned and lacquered cashews were polka dotted with black and white sesame seeds for a sweet and salty snack.

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Dining Reviews

Dog-friendly

Dog-friendly

There's a new Dog in town on the corner of Pacific Avenue and Laurel Street. Surf Dog serves mainly burgers and hot dogs, and you can design your own from a selection of ten meats and 19 toppings

The finishes are upscale for this small, late-night joint, with mosaic tile floors and a Corian-style marble table which matches those at Khyber Pass, the owner's other restaurant.

This isn't necessarily fast food: it took 20 minutes for a Juicy SC ($5.95), made to order. But it was hot, and even though cooked through, plenty moist. The fat sesame-seeded bun, spread with tart orange Surf Sauce was filled with a thick grill-marked patty with sautéed red bell peppers, crisp-textured onions and mushrooms. The orange cheese quickly melted until lusciously gooey, although the described garlic flavor was not apparent to me.

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Wine Reviews

Cycles Winery

Cycles Winery

Chardonnay 2009


If you haven’t seen Cycles Gladiator wine on supermarket shelves, then you haven’t been paying attention. It’s most definitely out there—and in great quantities. The belle époque label of a naked woman on a winged bicycle catches my eye every time I walk by grocery store shelves when I’m looking for a new bottle of wine to write about. This time, I was shopping in New Leaf when—there it is again, the ubiquitous Cycles Gladiator. It is very reasonably priced for around $12, but happened to be on sale for only $7 at New Leaf.

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Dining Reviews

Prodigious Pantry

Prodigious Pantry

The menu at the reinvented Casablanca Bistro offers novel ingredients to complement the fabulous view

The new owners of Casablanca Bistro and Inn have enlisted Jon Carder as Executive Chef. With an extensive multi-ethnic culinary background, his menu brings numerous unique and unfamiliar ingredients to the table.

Lunch is served downstairs in the Bistro bar’s Sea Level Room and on its Beach Street patio. The menu includes a selection of small plates, salads, and sandwiches.

Build your own Grilled Cheese Sandwich ($6) with a familiar flavor, or investigate Spain’s rich Manchego or Italy’s Burrata, a fresh mozzarella with creamy center. Then choose vegetables, meat and a spread such as fig jam or spicy Tunisian harissa. Other sandwiches ($11-$15), served with salad or fries, include France's famous ham and cheese croque monsieur or Grilled Coulotte steak with blue cheese, and Chinese heirloom pink watermelon radishes.

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Dining Reviews

Treats on Beach Street

Treats on Beach Street

I remember fondly our family picnics at various local beaches. Nothing ever tasted as good as the sandwiches my mom made on her blanket in the sand with freshly sliced sourdough bread, salami, cheese, tomatoes and dill pickles. Were they marvelous because of impending hypothermia, or because they were healthy and freshly made?

The Picnic Basket, a new endeavor by the folks at Penny Ice Creamery, brings a fresh and healthy taste of Santa Cruz to Boardwalk-area visitors. The menu includes food products from a venerable local list of who’s-who, with an emphasis on sustainability.

For breakfast ($3 to $8), begin with organic, brick oven breads and pastries from Mission Street’s Companion Bakers, or hot cereal from the 70-year old South San Francisco mills of Giusto’s Specialty Foods. You'll find all-natural bacon or ham from the family farms of Niman Ranch, Heidi Schlecht’s Santa Cruz Plumline organic jams, and sweet and savory turnovers made in-house.

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Wine Reviews

Soquel Vineyards

Soquel Vineyards

Zinfandel 2008

The grapes for this gorgeous Zinfandel come from century-old vines—one of the reasons why this Soquel Vineyards’ 2008 Zin is so darn good. Another reason is expert winemakers knowing exactly when the grapes are at their peak and ready to be picked; and the whole process of getting wine into bottle when the time is right. It all sounds easy enough, but it takes expertise and dedication to get everything in balance.

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