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Apr 21st
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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

Gewürztraminer 2008

I first came across Pelican Ranch Winery’s delicious Gewürztraminer at a special dinner at the Sesnon House in Aptos featuring amazing food made by the students of the Cabrillo College culinary program. The event showcased many of the wines of Surf City Vintners on the Westside of Santa Cruz–one of the easiest places to go wine tasting in this neck of the woods. Surf City Vintners now offers more than a dozen wineries located pretty much in the same area. How convenient is that! The vintners of Surf City not only offer excellent wines, but also put on special culinary, art and music events.

But back to the Pelican Ranch Gewürztraminer–made by master winemaker Phil Crews.

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Dining Reviews

Feeling Blue?

Feeling Blue?

Overlooking Soquel Creek, Little Tampico adds innovation to Mexican favorites


ampico is a port city on the Gulf of Mexico whose name means "place of the water dogs"; in other words, otters. Its humid subtropical climate sees a January low temperature of 55 degrees, so it seemed fitting, on a day that reached 53 degrees, to visit Soquel's Little Tampico.

At this restaurant on the sloped bank of Soquel Creek, we chose the lowest of its three dining levels where a gap between the windowed wall and overhead canvas canopy let in the crisp air. From here we could watch the smoothly flowing stream.

Chips were served with a pair of salsas. One was fairly mild with cilantro and chunks of fresh onion and tomato. The other was tomato-based also, but smooth, with a combination of chilies and spices that gave it heat and a very unique flavor.

As an appetizer, the Blue Nachos ($9.95) were even more delicious than expected. Blue corn tortilla chips were layered and topped with not only the typical Jack and cheddar cheeses, but crumbles of tangy goat ranchero as well. Also included were the house's black beans (more on them later), salsa, thick slices of fresh jalapeños and generous mounds of sour cream and mashed avocado. It was a meal in itself.

The lunch menu, served weekdays 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. includes an all-you-can-eat taco and tostada bar ($6.95). From the list of Almuerzo (lunch) Favoritos, we chose the Tampiquena ($9.75). A sliced medium-rare rib-eye steak was joined by a fat, miniature crunchy taco with ground beef, a medium-sized chicken enchilada, lard-free refried beans, rice and avocado.

From the regular menu I chose the Santa Fe Enchilada ($11.50) which was assembled like lasagna. A thick layer of shredded beef was hidden between two blue corn tortillas and topped with cheeses and the flavorful cooked ranchero salsa made with tomatoes and onions. Oh, and the black beans were in a sauce like barbecue beans but dark and flavored with south-of-the-border spices.

For dessert, a triangular slice of lightly sweetened flan ($4.50) lay in a generous amount of caramelized sugar syrup. The dense toothsome custard was decorated with whipped cream and a maraschino cherry. A warming winter beverage ($7), coffee spiked with Jameson whiskey and Kahlua, was served in a large Mason jar with a handle.

And good news: the restaurant is hoping to expand into an adjacent storefront with a full-service bar.


Little Tampico, 2605 Main St., Soquel, 475-4700. Full Bar. Open daily at 11 a.m., until 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Visit littletampico.com.


★★★


Chocolate (the restaurant) is offering cooking classes at Backstage Lounge, many of which are geared toward tweens and teens. Chocolate will be used in both sweet and savory dishes. On Jan. 21, make mole and on Jan. 28, it's crêpes. February's classes include Cooking for Two (adults), Party Food, Cupcakes, and more crêpes.

Classes cost $50, or four for $150.


Chocolate's Cooking Classes at Backstage Lounge, 1209 Soquel Ave. Visit chocolatesantacruz.com/classes.html.

Dining Reviews

Seafood with Spices

Seafood with Spices

Mexico's state of Michoacán, meaning "place of the fishermen" in the Nahuatl language, is blessed with rivers and lakes, and proximity to the Pacific Ocean. Its town of Cotija is known for the crumbly cow's milk cheese we often find atop Mexican entrées.

I headed down Portola Road to Taqueria Michoacan last week in search of seafood specialties. The little restaurant is easy to miss, located in what may have once been a home. On the attractively lettered menu board, fish find their way into tacos, burritos, and tostadas ($2.00 to $6.95). Shrimp is served breaded, in a spicy ranchero sauce, or grilled with bell pepper, tomato and onion ($10.50). Octopus or shrimp ceviche tops tostadas ($5.95).

I first ordered the Michoacan Special Dish ($11.95) with rice and beans. Six plump shrimp were bathed in a spicy hot red sauce, which I also enjoyed on the simple griddled piece of firm, flaky white fish. I put bits of the large thin slice of asada beef into steaming corn tortillas, with onions which had been sautéed until dark and sweetly caramelized, and tomato and cilantro guacamole. The hot sauce in the squirt bottle I found too salty for chips, but the perfect complement to this impromptu soft taco.

While enjoying the surf and turf, people came and went, leaving with one of the 13 versions of Super Burrito ($5.95). Weighing in at almost one and a half pounds, they're stuffed with refried beans, rice, cabbage, avocado and sour cream. In one I had simmered shreds of chicken in a mildly sweet mole, in the other, chunks of tender pork chile verde.

Between two brown dotted flour tortillas, the Super Quesadilla ($5.95) held cabbage, cilantro, avocado, and sour cream with my selection of barbecued chicken; little pieces of spicy grilled meat.


Taqueria Michoacan, 21401 East Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz, 465-8290.

Wine Reviews

Kathryn Kennedy Winery

Kathryn Kennedy Winery

Lateral 2007
Although Kathryn Kennedy died in August 2009, aged 82, her winemaking legacy lives on. Marty Mathis, Kennedy’s son, has been the winemaker at Kathryn Kennedy Winery since 1981, and now runs the business. We have him to thank for continuing the tradition of making superb wines at the estate winery in Saratoga.

At the Evening of Wine & Roses event last November, a fundraiser put on annually by the Pajaro Valley Community Health Trust, I tasted the 2007 Lateral, and I well remembered the 2005 Lateral as being a well-made complex wine that was full of flavor.

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Dining Reviews

The Emperor's Old Clothes

The Emperor's Old Clothes

I found food fit for a king at the beautifully furnished Dynasty Restaurant

It was a rare but welcome night when my dad came home with red and white cartons of Chinese food. Later, when an associate of his returned from Japan with chopsticks, I was excited to learn how they work. Sweet and sour pork (which our neighbor Mrs. Kong taught my mother to make) was a favorite.

I stopped at Dynasty Restaurant a few months ago for egg rolls and was immeasurably impressed by the decor. Three large tables the color of rosewood appear able to seat twelve, each with lazy Susans and adorned with gilded dragons. The banquet room holds an even bigger circular table.

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Dining Reviews

Chilies; Hooray, No?

Chilies; Hooray, No?

Errand day typically involves lunch on the run, and since we were in Scotts Valley, we stepped into Maya Mexican Restaurant on the corner of Scotts Valley Drive and Mt. Herman Road. The front room felt like a fiesta with living trees, strings of tiny multi-colored lights, sponge-painted orange walls and Mexican music.

Maya is known for its selection of almost 50 tequilas, some of which were aged up to five years in oak barrels. The large bar area includes a couple of televisions and sofas, and makes many of its premium margaritas with Gran Gala, an Italian triple-orange liqueur blended with VSOP brandy.

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Wine Reviews

Le P’Tit Paysan

Le P’Tit Paysan

2006 Syrah

Practically all the wines that Vinocruz sells are local, so I often go in there for a browse around. Owner J-P Correa urges me to try this, that and the other—and he’s always so enthusiastic and informative, especially when he’s discovered some little gem.

Such was the case when Correa asked me to try Le P’Tit Paysan’s 2006 Syrah ($19), Windsor Oaks Vineyard, Russian River Valley. The nose is rich with blueberry, boysenberry and raspberry, and these dense berry flavors add immense depth. Peppery overtones add an interesting spiciness to this Syrah.

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Dining Reviews

Soup's On!

Soup's On!

Chilly temperatures send the stock pots to simmering all around town

On weary winter weekends the lunch table would feature hot soup from familiar red and white cans. Tomato was my favorite (made with water, not milk) with crisp, salty crackers crumbled on top.

Even better however was soup after the holidays when Mom would toss a ham bone into a pot of dry, soaked lima beans. Unaware of the frugality of the meal, I held my face over the bowl, relishing the smoky-smelling steam, and then whistled onto large spoonfuls until the flat beans and thick broth were cool enough to eat.

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Dining Reviews

Mediterranean Madness

Mediterranean Madness

Oh, there are unforgettable feasts at Vasili’s
There are a few people you meet who absolutely love working with, presenting and/or serving food that you can’t help but be impressed by their infectious energy. Julie White is one of those local creatures.

As owner of Vasili’s Greek Restaurant on Santa Cruz’s Westside, White and her staff certainly know how to serve authentic Greek meals—hell, let’s just call them feasts—but what truly stands out is that you really can taste the “love” in all the food here. Four of us soon discovered this during a recent outing at the popular restaurant and the experience only seemed to remove a rather annoying eating inhibition I had imposed on myself earlier in the day. This isn’t the place to eat less. More is better, so … bring it on.

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Wine Reviews

Alfaro Family Vineyards & Winery

Alfaro Family Vineyards & Winery

Pinot Noir 2008
A good friend of mine who I don’t see very often—he lives in Philadelphia—came to visit me for the day, along with a friend who he was staying with in San Francisco. This was my golden opportunity to take them around and show them a little of Santa Cruz in the short space of time we had.

I took them straight to a local winery for a tasting—one of the few open on a Wednesday—as I wanted them to try at least a small selection of our superb local wines before they had to head back north.

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Cardinal Grand Cross in the Sky

Following Holy Week (passion, death and burial of the Pisces World Teacher) and Easter Sunday (Resurrection Festival), from April 19 to the 23, the long-awaited and discussed Cardinal Cross of Change appears in the sky, composed of Cardinal signs Aries, Libra, Cancer, and Capricorn, with planets (13-14 degrees) Uranus (in Aries), Jupiter (in Cancer), Mars (in Libra) and Pluto (in Capricorn), an actual geometrical square or cross configuration. Cardinal signs mark the seasons of change, initiating new realities.

 

Sugar: The New Tobacco?

Proposed bill would require warning labels on sugary drinks Will soda and other saccharine libations soon come with a health warning? They will if it’s up to our state senator, Bill Monning (D-Carmel). On Feb. 27, Monning proposed first-of-its-kind legislation that would require a consumer warning label be placed on sugar-sweetened beverages sold in California. SB 1000, also known as the Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Safety Warning Act, was proposed to provide vital information to consumers about the harmful effects of consuming sugary drinks, such as sodas, sports drinks, energy drinks, and sweetened teas.

 

Film, Times & Events: Week of April 17

Santa Cruz area movie theaters >

 

Growing Hope

Campos Seguros combats sexual assault in the Watsonville farmworker community Farm work was a way of life for Rocio Camargo, who grew up in Watsonville as the daughter of Mexican immigrants. Her parents met while working the fields 30 years ago, and her father went on to run Fuentes Berry Farms.
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Foodie File: Red Apple Cafe

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How would you feel about a tech industry boom in Santa Cruz?

I feel like it would ruin the small old-town feeling of Santa Cruz. It wouldn’t be the same Surf City kind of vacation town that it is. Antoinette BennettSanta Cruz | Construction Management

 

Trout Gulch Vineyards

Cinsault 2012—la grande plage diurne The most popular wines on store shelves are those most generally known and available—Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, which are all superb for sure. But when you come across a more unusual varietal, like Trout Gulch Vineyards’ Cinsault ($18), it opens up a whole new world.

 

Waddell Creek, Al Fresco

Route One Summer Farm Dinner You’ve been buying their insanely fresh produce for years now at farmers’ markets. Right? So now why not become more familiar with the gorgeous Waddell Creek farmlands of Route One Farms?