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Oct 25th
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Dining

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

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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Wine Reviews

Perrucci Family Vineyard

Perrucci Family Vineyard

Merlot 2004

The previous owners of Vinocruz were selling off most of their wine before heading to New York so I bought a few bottles to write about—and the Perrucci Merlot was one of them. As it happens, J-P Correa, co-owner of the wine shop, needn’t have rushed into getting rid of his inventory because the business eventually sold and we can now look forward to the whole wine shop being restocked with good local wines.

The 2004 Merlot is quite exceptional. Smooth, rich and full-bodied with hints of caramel, vanilla and dark berries, it fills the senses with its lovely complexities. It certainly aged well in the bottle. I would imagine that the 2004 is hard to come by now, but the good news is that this month sees the release of Perrucci’s 2009 Merlot. Both wines retail for around $25.

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Dining Reviews

Mediterranean Morning

Mediterranean Morning

Ristorante Italiano jumps into brunch, melding Italian flavors and American favorites

Out on the deck, the fog had just cleared, leaving us basking in the summer sun deciding on what to eat for brunch. The mural on the exterior wall at Ristorante Italiano comes to life in the early light, featuring faces of employees past and present in an animated Italian street scene.

Unfortunately, bottomless mimosas ($10) would hinder the day's remaining commitments, but other single-serving champagne specialties were delicious. The Bellini ($4.50) combined the sweet tartness of puréed canned peaches with a bit of the bubbly, while the Hibiscus, in which floated a plump raspberry, was red with cranberry juice. We sipped from our sparking flutes while Petula Clark, Dusty Springfield, Neil Diamond, and other light rock from the ’70s wafted softly through the air.

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Dining Reviews

Mama Mel's Kitchen

Mama Mel's Kitchen

Across Soquel Drive from the old drive-in, Mel's Market and Deli sits ready and waiting to fuel treasure hunters and those awaiting patients at Sutter Surgery Center. The miniature market is stocked with almost every chilled beverage imaginable, as well as basic necessities for the kitchens of its surrounding neighborhoods. It looks tiny from the street, but the deli extends out behind an adjacent house, with a suitable amount of indoor seating. There are also a few tables in front, and two more in the back, where you might find neighbors chatting over lunch or offering snacks to the giant, furry, red dog Blue.

The Deviled Eggs ($1.25), their seasoned yolks flecked with paprika, were velvety without excessive mayonnaise.

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Wine Reviews

Hunter Hill Vineyard & Winery

Hunter Hill Vineyard  & WineryOld Vine Zinfandel 2009

Hunter Hill’s new release of their Old Vine Zinfandel 2009 ($25) is a bold and luscious wine that has been aged for one year in American oak. Grapes to make this fruit-forward wine come from the ancient Mohr-Fry Ranches’ vineyards in the Lodi appellation, resulting in a rich and full-bodied elixir. Zinfandel lovers will truly appreciate the complexities, aromas and flavors captured inside every bottle – and the full-bodied, jammy rich finish only leaves you wanting more. Fortunately, 250 cases were produced, so the winery is not going to run out any time soon.

Hunter Hill is a gorgeous place to visit. Owners Christine and Vann Slatter are justly proud of their property – now complete with stunning pond and water feature. Vines heavy with fruit extend up the hillside, and at this time of year everything is green and lush.

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Dining Reviews

Ono Hawaii Calls

Ono Hawaii Calls

Pono Hawaiian Grill brings island magic to Cypress Lounge

Cypress Lounge now shares its space with Pono Hawaiian Grill, brought to you by “Braddah” Timmy Hunt who previously co-owned Aloha Island Grill. The menu holds a bounty of traditional Hawaiian dishes and those influenced by Asian cuisine.

The Lounge’s interior now sports island-themed art, and the large patio has been revitalized with tropical ginger plants, woven reed wallpaper, and a roof thatched with palm fronds. Aloha Fridays feature live Hawaiian music.

Appetizers ($2.50 to $7.95) such as Hawaiian Fresh Spring rolls with pineapple-macadamia nut hoisin sauce, and Manapua dumplings filled with char siu pork make perfect bar snacks. Salads ($4.50 to $6.95) include Da Mana Salad, a vegetarian mixture of tofu poke, brown rice and vegetables.

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Dining Reviews

Delicious Detour

Delicious Detour

Stromboli is an island near Sicily with an active volcano that is known for spewing fireballs of lava. It is also the name of the puppeteer in Disney’s rendition of Pinocchio, which I was reminded of while visiting the Magic Kingdom. This brought to mind my favorite Stromboli, an edible masterpiece created by Tony Dimaggio Sr. On my way home from the Diridon Airport I hungrily detoured 10 miles south on Highway 87.

Dimaggio emigrated from Sicily to New York in 1958, moving later to Pennsylvania, and then to San Jose, where he opened his restaurant in 1977. Dimaggio’s was one of the stops after company softball games. In addition to Stromboli, I fondly recall pitchers of beer, garlic bread, pizza, lasagna and laughter.

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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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Santa Cruz Restaurant Week

A huge part of Santa Cruz Restaurant Week has always been about offering a great dining experience for an affordable price. For some locals, the $25 flat-rate cost has provided the opportunity (or the excuse!) to try new spots, and indulge in Santa Cruz fine dining in a way they might have thought too pricey before.

 

Scorpio Sun, New Moon Eclipse, Mercury Direct

The Sun enters Scorpio’s mysteries Thursday under a new moon and partial solar eclipse (something essential has come to an end, its purpose completed). In Scorpio we harbor secrets, are devoted to something deep, dark and hidden. Sometimes it’s ourselves. We can bring great suspect to our assessment of others. Scorpio is the scorpion, the serpent and the eagle—three levels of development. As the serpent we take shelter in our beliefs. Sometimes we bite (or sting). The eagle vanquishes old beliefs through its sharp intellect, soaring high in the air, seeking to understand through perspective. Understanding releases us from the bondage of fear. The eagle is like the mother soothing feelings of mistrust, offering protection. Knowledge does this, too.

 

The New Tech Nexus

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

 

Light Humor

College comedy questions a post-racial America in ‘Dear White People’
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