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Sep 01st
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Dining

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

Dining Reviews

The Spice is Right

The Spice is Right

Although Malabar refers to a region of India along its western coast bordering the Arabian Sea, Santa Cruz's Malabar Restaurant infuses ingredients from around the world into its vegetarian menu. Japanese pumpkins, Anaheim chilies, Greek cheese, Malaysian peanut sauce and Russian Borscht are just some of the flavors that join curries and samosas in its rich list of small plates, soups, salads, pastas and entrées.

We began the meal with exotic beverages. Persian Nights ($4.25) was a sweet, lavender-colored blend of banana, pomegranate and almond milk scented with rosewater.  Supertonic ($4.50), a refreshing fusion of ginseng, ginger and allspice, was topped with chewy dried Himalayan goji berries.

Baked Sonoma Goat Cheese Salad ($7.75) with beautiful baby lettuces was lightly dressed with lemon vinaigrette and topped with a soft puff of white cheese. We enjoyed it with an order of Pan ($4), the airy, soft flatbread, which was served with clarified butter ghee, generously laden with minced fresh garlic.

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Wine Reviews

Fortino Cellars

Fortino Cellars

Almond-Flavored Champagne

Not that long ago, I was wine tasting with a few friends at some of the wineries over Hecker Pass in the Gilroy area. One of the places where we stopped was Fortino Cellars. They have a lovely tasting room—and our little group was well taken care of and given a tour of the property.

Although we tasted some interesting wines that day, I was really taken with an almond-flavored Champagne they produce—although officially it really should be called sparkling wine. True Champagne comes only from the Champagne region of France—and the top dogs such as Taittinger and Bollinger are pretty expensive. Bollinger, as you may remember, was always drunk by the outrageous duo in the British series “Absolutely Fabulous.” They always referred to it as “Bolly” as in “Got any Bolly, darling?”

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Dining Reviews

Full Plate

Full Plate

A repertoire of Mexican sauces and neighborly atmosphere has made Manuel's an enduring Aptos treasure

For more than 45 years the Santanas have shared their family's traditional Mexican recipes with their Aptos neighbors. Recently renovated, the interior is as cheerful as the staff, and the flavorful foods are filling.

We kicked off dinner with crisp, house-fried tortilla chips and Manuel's legendary cooked, puréed salsa; well-spiced with cumin and chilies. It is so good that the kitchen bottles it for sale at the restaurant and markets such as Shopper's Corner.

Manuel's has a surprising local wine selection and glasses ($4.50) and bottles ($17) of house wines also. From the full bar domestic and imported beers ($3.50/$4.25) join glasses and pitchers of margaritas ($5.75/$15.75) plus Mango or Strawberry ritas ($5.95/$15.75).

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Dining Reviews

Steer Right for Brunch

Steer Right for Brunch

If T-bone steak and eggs are your idea of a perfect breakfast, head to the Hindquarter for their new Sunday Brunch. The restaurant, known for their smoked and grilled meats, has a fine morning menu.

We took a table in the bar by the televisions to witness a 22-year old from Northern Ireland shatter golf records at the U.S Open. Loud music from the likes of Rod Stewart, The Byrds, Beatles, and Moody Blues created a lively atmosphere.

The familiar lunch menu included salads, burgers, pasta, sandwiches and Hindquarter's signature meats, while the brunch menu offered corned beef hash, buttermilk biscuits, and Salmon Salad Niçoise.

The small Brunch Bloody Mary ($4) was nicely spiced with pepper and horseradish and garnished with green olives and slices of citrus.

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Wine Reviews

Vino Tabi

Vino TabiCabernet Franc 2008

A couple of weeks ago I was in the Surf City Vintners complex tasting wine at Vino Tabi. It was a fundraiser for the O’Neill Sea Odyssey program and winery owner Katie Fox was donating a percentage of sales that evening to this worthy cause. The turnout was great and everybody had a good time, especially listening to the beautiful guitar playing of Jay Alvarez.
Fox had her usual excellent wines lined up for customers to enjoy, but then she pulled out her latest Cabernet Franc and asked me to try it. So newly bottled it didn’t even have a label on it, I was completely bowled over with this dark beauty. Chock full of rich flavors and deliciously seductive, this 2008 Cab Franc, Mannstead Vineyard, Gilroy ($22), is a really impressive. It’s quite the best Cab Franc I have tasted in some time—full of ripe plums and rich cherries, and with a gorgeous aroma of peppery spice.
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Dining Reviews

The Gathering

The Gathering

Westside Coffee Company offers an amiable environment and tasty food with their array of Java and tea

Espresso used to be so simple. A quick stop at a Parisian Café yielded a dark, hot, aromatic beverage served in a tiny, white demitasse cup with a cube of sugar. In minutes we were back

on the sidewalk attending to remaining errands.

At Westside Coffee Company the coffee beverages are worth lingering over with neighbors or Wi-Fi-enabled laptops. The store has been in business for more than 15 years, but now has a brand new owner and friendly, efficient baristas.

Pastries ($2.25) are baked in-house every day. The one-inch thick slice of moist, nutty banana bread was dense and crumbly and not too sweet.

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Dining Reviews

A Hot Tip

A Hot Tip

I try to avoid grocery shopping when hungry, but just driving into the parking lot at Scotts Valley Market when smoke is drifting upwards from the outdoor grill makes me ready for another meal.

Every day they fire up wood chunks to cook meats for their deli. Today spice-rubbed tri-tip, large racks of ribs, and chicken legs lent their aroma to the smoke.

The market is the sister of Ben Lomond Market, and locally owned by a family which has been in the grocery business since 1946. The merchandising is sharp and orderly with products supported by stainless Metro-style wire shelving. The produce is locally grown when available and 40 percent of it is organic.

My destination on this visit was the deli, with a case full of prepared salads from pasta to tuna and Chinese Chicken. There's a fresh fruit bar and a two-sided salad bar with a great selection of greens and toppings.

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Wine Reviews

Quinta Cruz

Quinta Cruz

Verdelho 2009

Jeff Emery has always turned out some wonderful wines under his Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard label—they are much appreciated by local wine lovers and have always sold well. And now the same can be said for his Quinta Cruz label—where Emery concentrates his talents on producing Iberian style wines such as Verdelho ($20). The grapes for this tangy medium-sweet wine were first cultivated in Portugal around 1400 and used in the making of Madeira. Emery’s Verdelho, Alta Mesa Silvaspoons Vineyard, is a dry, crisp aromatic wine that will knock your socks off. Aromas and flavors of ripe peaches, apricots, honeydew melons, citrus and floral notes make this unusual wine so enjoyable. I simply love it.

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Dining Reviews

First Resort

First Resort

The coastal cuisine at Sanderlings, with fresh, local ingredients, is as nice as the view

At Sanderlings in Aptos, creative food is available 16 hours a day. Even the all-day menu is enticing with spicy Garlic Wings as a snack or a Grilled New York Sandwich for something more substantial. On my visits, each of the experienced staff members were punctual and polite.
At breakfast, porcelain vases of fragrant pastel sweet pea flowers adorned white tablecloths. Smooth jazz played in the north-facing dining room, which looks out over manicured shrubs and wooden patio seating toward spindly cypress trees, Monterey Bay and the cliffs of Santa Cruz. Sand-colored Spanish-style townhouses of the resort hug the cliff, framed by a eucalyptus forest.
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Dining Reviews

Oh, Fudge

Oh, Fudge

I typically view fudge as a Christmas necessity, but mid-way through the year it’s National Fudge Day. I have made fudge in the traditional manner of boiling sugar, butter and milk to the soft ball stage temperature, then stirring in unsweetened chocolate squares until melted and fully integrated. When I got a microwave oven and discovered Marshmallow Cream, it substantially simplified the process. I also learned that no matter how tiny the pieces I shaved from the soft block of chocolate sugar, eating most of a batch results in substantial weight gain.

Now I look to the experts when it comes to fudge, who offer manageable quarter-pound slices. Split four ways, each serving is only 120 calories.

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Mercury Enters Libra

It’s the week of Burning Man, the temporary, intentional, alternative, art-filled community on the playas of Nevada. Mercury, messenger of the Sun, enters Libra this week. Libra is the equalizer, a sign of balance and right human relations. Sometimes with Libra, we can be indecisive and confused while learning how to make balanced and right choices. Sometimes to keep the peace we communicate only what others want to hear. Eventually, we learn how to speak from the heart.

 

Final Cut

Cedar Street Video to close after 10 years at downtown location

 

Banter and Spark

Engaging actors, wry script distinguish lightweight rom-com ‘What If’

 

Back to Silicon Beach

With a new wave of startups, the future of Santa Cruz tech looks more promising than ever
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Himalayan Kitchen

Chef Purna Regmi on the secrets of Nepalese cooking

 

What’s the nicest thing you’ve done for someone this week?

Germany  |  Beekeeper

 

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

 

A Cab To Be Coveted

I first tasted Villa del Monte’s 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon at a Fourth of July party, where the hosts had bought a case of it because they love it and didn’t want to run out. It’s one of those wines that will grab you—in the best way—with its full body and rich fruit characteristics.