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Dining

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

Dining Reviews

Galician Treasure

Galician Treasure

At the Everett Family Farm's farmers market booth, a sign read "el famoso Padrón.” The wrinkled appearance of these small Galician peppers reminded me of pepperoncini.

Galicia is an autonomous region of Spain which is bordered on the south by Portugal and on the north and west by the Atlantic Ocean. Its economy is driven by fishing, manufacturing and agriculture. From one of its municipalities come these pementos de Padrón, only relatively recently available stateside.

Generally a sweet pepper, but occasionally one with an overabundance of capsaicin sneaks in amongst its mellow brethren, earning these capsicums the nickname Russian Roulette. A Galician saying warns, "Peppers of Padrón, some of them hot, and others not." Apparently, if left to mature to a deep red, they are quite spicy.

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Wine Reviews

Lucia Highlands

Lucia Highlands

Pinot Noir 2008

The story goes that the Spanish explorers named the area Lucia when they came to the area around the time of the feast day of St. Lucia, celebrated in December. And now we have something else to celebrate—Lucia Highlands’ wine.

I came across Lucia Highlands’ Pinot Noir at Seascape Sports Club at the Comerica Challenger tennis tournament in July in Aptos. Local winery owners Carol and Bret Sisney had donated a couple of cases for a function at the tournament—one of Pinot Noir and another of Chardonnay—the two wines they are making right now.

The Sisneys, with their partner Gary Filizetti, purchased the vineyard in 2001, and the first bottling that same year produced 120 cases of Chardonnay. Now, with the assistance of consulting winemaker Steve Passagno, the 2009 bottling produced 400 cases of Chardonnay and 600 cases of Pinot.

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Dining Reviews

North and South

North and South

Capitola Diner serves breakfast all day and mixes it up with Mexican specialties


The family-owned Capitola Diner aims to create a relaxed beach house atmosphere, and boasts a large menu that combines American diner standards with Mexican-influenced dishes and seafood specials.

For brunch, I enjoyed a tasty Santa Fe Skillet ($8.99) served in a long-handled casserole. Softly scrambled eggs with melting cheese, tender pieces of bacon, and cubes of creamy avocado were topped with a gentle house-made salsa, a touch of sour cream, and plenty of sliced green onions. Underneath were nicely cooked, but mildly seasoned red-skinned potatoes; nothing a little Tapatio hot sauce couldn’t remedy. Breakfasts are served with a choice of toast, biscuits or pancakes. The latter were thick, chewy and filling.

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Dining Reviews

The Buzz on Bees

The Buzz on Bees

A redwood-lined country road off of Freedom Boulevard climbs to the top of a hill where Dana and Ed Mumm, Sr. sell the goods of their hard-working bees. From hand-gathered and strained raw honey, to sweet-smelling handmade candles, the Mumms’ mission is one of love.

I met with Dana at their sunny gift store. Wildflower honey is gathered locally in the spring, its taste varying each year depending on what's in bloom. It's a dark honey in which I tasted a bit of caramel, and immediately craved a warm batch of cornbread.

Lighter in color and more viscous is the earthy sweetness of sage honey, made when the hives are brought to the Carmel area.

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Wine Reviews

Naumann Vineyards

Naumann VineyardsChardonnay 2008

Don Naumann makes an impressive Chardonnay. His 2008 vintage is a smooth refreshing wine that is aged for 18 months in oak barrels—made of half French and half American oak—and the end result is an “appley-grassy flavor with a light oak, light buttery finish.” Made from grapes grown in the Santa Cruz Mountains, both the 2008 and 2009 vintages are available for $18 a bottle.
I opened up this lovely Chardonnay to have with a light dinner of fresh salmon, a few thinly sliced potatoes cooked in olive oil and some mixed baby greens and tomatoes. Olive oil, lemon juice and a touch of balsamic vinegar is the way to go on salads because it’s healthier and lighter than most dressings. And after living in Greece for 13 years, I gravitate toward olive oil as a base for just about everything. This wine is the perfect partner to go with most fish and poultry.
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Dining Reviews

On a Roll

On a Roll

At Takara Japanese Restaurant, colorful presentations augment fresh flavors

I hadn’t visited Takara Japanese Restaurant since they moved from a tiny mid-town location to the expansive Red Lobster site in Capitola. We were met with glasses of ice water and warm damp towels to prepare our hands for the possibility of finger eating. Bowls of warm miso soup ($2.50) were soothing and salty with soft seaweed and tofu.

The restaurant's beautifully appointed interior is rich and multi-textured with warm wood, bamboo, mats woven from organic materials, and silk weavings.

The Sweet Mussel appetizer ($5.50) included three bivalve half shells stuffed with chopped mollusks in a sweet, garlicky mayonnaise-type sauce, which were baked until golden and heaped with sparkling orange tobiko flying fish roe.

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Dining Reviews

Good and Grilled

Good and Grilled

I arrived at Brown's Ranch Marketplace as a batch of chicken was pulled off the mesquite charcoal-fired grill. I expected good things from Crown Café, owned by Scotts Valley Market, with an Executive Chef who studied in Paris at le Cordon Bleu under Julia Child. A friend says it’s the only good sandwich place in town.

A cold case was stocked with olives, juices, fruit and meal-sized salads. The Traditional Cobb ($6.95) with mixed greens was topped with blue cheese, tomatoes, bacon and hard-boiled egg. Made-to-order hot ($5.99 to $8) and cold ($6.99 to $7.99) sandwiches, wraps ($4.99) and Panini ($6.49), along with more salads are made to order behind the counter.

My first happy encounter was with the Smoke Stack ($6.99). The smoky flavor of Boar’s Head turkey breast was evident in this warm sandwich served on a Francese roll with crunchy bacon, crisp lettuce, cheddar cheese, and pesto mayonnaise.

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Wine Reviews

Ghostwriter

Ghostwriter

Chardonnay 2009


I had this empty bottle of Ghostwriter Chardonnay sitting on my desk for some time—intending to write about it. I had chosen this particular bottle at Soif when some friends and I headed there after a concert at The Civic—and we all enjoyed this interesting wine along with a couple of plates of hors d’oeuvres. I carried the bottle home so that I could take in the label—a study in pale minimalism—featuring an old manual typewriter. And there’s not much else, really, except this strange verse (copied from the label verbatim):

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Dining Reviews

I am Hungry

I am Hungry

Café Gratitude brings attractive and flavorful organic vegan food to Downtown Santa Cruz

Whether you’re a practicing vegan or not, the touches of herbs and spices used at Café Gratitude guarantee a memorable meal. For the most part, you can’t identify the dishes’ ingredients by their names on the menu, so at the first visit, I studied the descriptions over a Bison organic IPA ($5), a hoppy beer made in Ukiah. A cool glass of I am Bright ($4) followed. This probiotic kombucha tea, rich with antioxidants had a light fruity flavor.

Matthew and Terces Engelhart opened their first Café Gratitude in San Francisco's Mission District, focusing on sustainability and community. They now have a handful of locations and grow much of the produce at their farm in Vacaville.

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Dining Reviews

Under the Sycamores

Under the Sycamores

It was a busy morning on the deck at River Cafe. Patrons enjoyed beverages from the organic coffee bar with Wi-Fi, a fresh flat of strawberries was delivered, and employees delivered large catering dishes.

Vegetarian breakfast burritos and frittatas ($6.50) with seasonal vegetables were ready to be heated, and could be embellished with Italian pork sausage ($1 and $1.50). I chose the frittata, cooked in a casserole like a crustless quiche. Airy egg custard was topped with greens, soft, crumbly goat cheese, and grill-marked tomatoes. It was served with smoky salsa and slices of sweet oranges.

I also enjoyed a scone ($3), which was crumbly, riddled with poppy seeds, and had a pleasant lemony flavor. The side of house-made jam was tart with crushed berries.

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Reflecting Glass

Composer Philip Glass’ first trip to Big Sur was by motorcycle; little did he know that he’d establish a music festival there six decades later.

 

Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, occurs this year during Libra, the sign of creating right relations with all aspects life and with earth’s kingdoms. We contemplate (the Libra meditation) forgiveness, which means, “to give for another.” Forgiveness is not pardon. It’s a sacrifice (fire in the heart, giving from the heart). Forgiveness is giving up for the good of the other. This is the law of evolution (the path of return).

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Film, Times & Events: Week of September 26

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Wurst Case Scenario

Venus Spirits releases agave spirit, Renee Shepherd on planting garlic, Sausagefest 2014, and wine harvest in full swing

 

Do you think you are addicted to technology?

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Best of Santa Cruz County

The 2013 Santa Cruz County Readers' Poll and Critics’ Picks It’s our biggest issue of the year, and in it, your votes—more than 6,500 of them—determined the winners of The Best of Santa Cruz County Readers’ Poll. New to the long list of local restaurants, shops and other notables that captured your interest: Best Beer Selection, Best Locally Owned Business, Best Customer Service and Best Marijuana Dispensary. In the meantime, many readers were ever so chatty online about potential new categories. Some of the suggestions that stood out: Best Teen Program and Best Web Design/Designer. But what about: Dog Park, Church, Hotel, Local Farm, Therapist (I second that!) or Sports Bar—not to be confused with Bra. Our favorite suggestion: Best Act of Kindness—one reader noted Café Gratitude and the free meals it offered to the Santa Cruz Police Department in the aftermath of recent crimes. Perhaps some of these can be woven into next year’s ballot, so stay tuned. In the meantime, enjoy the following pages and take note of our Critics’ Picks, too, beginning on page 91. A big thanks for voting—and for reading—and an even bigger congratulations to all of the winners. Enjoy.  -Greg Archer, EditorBest of Santa Cruz County Readers’ Poll INDEX

 

Apricot Wine for Dessert

Thomas Kruse Winery, a participant in the new Santa Clara Wine Trail, has been around for a long time—since 1971, to be exact. When our little group arrived to try some wine at the Kruses’ low-key tasting room, Thomas Kruse and his wife Karen were there to greet us. Theirs is a small operation, and they’re proud to offer quality wine at affordable prices. “Because we are small and low-tech, it’s easy to relate to the whole winemaking process,” says Karen—and the Kruses take pride in making wine “just like it has been made for centuries.”