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Apr 25th
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Dining

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

Dining Reviews

Custom Vinaigrette

Custom Vinaigrette

It's been barely three weeks since the ribbon-cutting at The True Olive Connection, and on a sunny Sunday, curious gourmets were sampling liquids from tiny plastic cups.

Shelves line the walls bearing stainless steel barrels of more than 40 flavors of olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar. Adjacent to each is a bottle from which tastes are poured. Mike Pappas, who opened the store with his wife Susan, suggested I first warm the cup with my hands to release aromas from the oils.

After I selected my favorites, Pappas filled bottles of oil or vinegar from the barrels. Each of them was corked and their shrink-wrap tops heated to ensure freshness.

The Pappas' distributor comes from a long line of Italian olive people. Her olives are cold-pressed at an unusually low temperature, which reduces the yield but results in a more flavorful product. Pappas is convinced that he has the freshest oil around.

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Wine Reviews

Odonata

Odonata

Malbec 2008

I first met Denis Hoey, winemaker and owner of Odonata, several years ago when he was just starting out with his own label. At that time it was called Dragonfly, but, due to a trademark issue, the named had to be changed. Continuing with the dragonfly theme, Hoey decided to call his wines Odonata–after an order of insects encompassing the dragonfly and the damselfly. And, it almost goes without saying, the very attractive labels on bottles of Odonata wines have a beautiful dragonfly image.

When I bought a bottle of Malbec, Alta Mesa Vineyard, ($28) from Hoey last month at the tasting room he shares with Jeff Emery of Santa Cruz Mountain Winery–both wineries are part of the Surf City Vintners collective–he was knee-deep in harvest, and all the hard work that it involves. Working as production manager for Emery’s winery as well as making his own wines keeps very Hoey busy, but this garnered experience over the years really shows in his wines, which only get better and better.

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Dining Reviews

Touched by the Seafood

Touched by the Seafood

From Monterey Bay Calamari to New York Steak and portobello ravioli, Rocco's 503 has something for everyone
Some restaurant spaces sit vacant, seemingly forever, while we anxiously anticipate the unveiling of a menu which will guide us on new culinary adventures. But in the case of Rocco's 503, it seemed to appear overnight.

A bright neon sign, a fresh coat of sienna and celery-green paint, a tasteful arrangement of simple wall decor and Rocco's was open for business. They even built a window into the adjacent Callahan's to enable food service to the bar's patrons. Arriving for lunch I recognized the blue and orange bread plates of the previous establishment, now set on cloth-free tables.

Rocco's appetizers are a composite of standards and novelties. Fries and onion rings, chicken strips and buffalo wings are flanked by Callahan's nachos, made with steak fries instead of tortilla chips, and fried ravioli with marinara.

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Dining Reviews

Happy Afternoons

Happy Afternoons

Happy hours are appreciated for their budget-friendly snacks and beverages, but what if you tend to work too late to enjoy them?  Happy hour at Hawgs Seafood lasts until 6 p.m. every day, and, uniquely, on Friday and Saturday it begins at 11:30 a.m., and Sundays at noon.

On a Saturday afternoon, folks at the bar were enjoying football on two big screen TVs. On the covered patio, diners at tall tables basked in rays of the sun from its lower autumnal trajectory. We took a warm window seat in the dining room where we could enjoy the large, colorful underwater photographs of marine life.

Sipping refreshing house 'Ritas ($6) we perused the starters menu, where two to four dollars had been shaved off the price of each appetizer.

Each of the half dozen Oysters Asiago ($10) was topped with a bit of sautéed spinach and garlic and then Asiago cheese, which melted in the oven to form a rich, salty shell.

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Wine Reviews

Beauregard Vineyards

Beauregard VineyardsChardonnay 2007—Gold Medal Winner and Best Santa Cruz Mountains White
Beauregard Vineyards has been around for a long time. The Beauregard family has been farming vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains since 1940–on vineyards that span more than 90 acres over these very mountains.

It all began when Amos Beauregard purchased a piece of land in 1949 and started growing grapes. Next followed Emmett Beauregard, who acquired Shopper’s Corner in 1939; followed by Jim Beauregard, who ran the Felton Empire Winery (now Hallcrest Vineyards) in the ’70s and ’80s. And, following in his ancestors’ footsteps, Ryan Beauregard came on board in 1998.
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Dining Reviews

Holy Calzone

Holy Calzone

Freshly made dough is featured at Michael's Pizza and Pasta

he Gurga family, hailing initially from Italy, and then Georgia and New York where they operated successful Italian eateries, previously owned Michael's Pizza in Aptos. A year ago, Michael's returned, this time in Capitola.

At this casual eatery, order at the counter, grab some plastic cutlery and pick a table. Sodas are self-serve, as is iced tea ($1.65/$1.95), which was strong and refreshing.

The Greek Salad ($6.50), served on a large oval platter, included hearts of romaine, wedges of Roma tomato, chunks of red onion, kalamata olives, strongly flavored feta cheese, and a delicious balsamic Italian dressing.

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Dining Reviews

Soft and Succulent

Soft and Succulent

According to Seafood Watch, farmed oysters, which constitute 95 percent of the world's harvest, are considered a "Best Choice" in terms of sustainability. Nutritionally, a trio of these bivalves has only 30 calories and provides more than 100 percent of the Recommended Daily Allowance of zinc and B-12 and a third of the iron requirement. Purists can guiltlessly slurp away on these open-faced mollusks raw or heated over coals until bubbles just begin to appear in their natural juices.

As a child, I first encountered an oyster hidden in a combination basket of Gilda's deep-fried Fisherman's Catch ($12.75). Its soft center contrasted favorably to the flaky cod and crisp calamari tentacles.

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Wine Reviews

Bargetto Winery

Bargetto Winery

Chardonnay 2008

A friend was treating me to dinner at Zameen Mediterranean Cuisine, so the least I could do was buy the wine. I plumped for a Bargetto Chardonnay 2008 Central Coast ($19:50 a bottle/$6 by the glass). I knew this very drinkable wine would go with Zameen’s delicious food—with its strong Persian and Mediterranean influences.

We picked a cozy table in a corner and Zameen’s owner, Ed Watson, rushed over with the nicely chilled wine and opened it up. Although this place is casual dining—food is ordered over-the-counter–the service doesn’t reflect that. Food is always delivered to the table and service is prompt and courteous. Zameen knows how to pack a flavor punch into its offerings—and prices are very reasonable, and portions plentiful.

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Dining Reviews

From Field to Able

From Field to Able

The Youth Crew at Food, What?! mixes farming-based curriculums with personal, business, community and networking skills

Since 1979 Santa Cruz’s nonprofit Life Lab organization has built a fine boutique of garden-based curriculums. Children around the country learn hands-on science in the fresh air of their school gardens. At the Garden Classroom at UC Santa Cruz, kids learn about nature, weather, and decomposition, while teacher-training classes offer graduate credits. And three years ago Food, What?! was born as a high school youth empowerment program.

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Wine Reviews

Via Vega Vineyard & Winery

Via Vega Vineyard & Winery

2005 Red Wine
I could not resist buying this wine in time for Halloween and Dia de los Muertos. The label depicts a skeleton wearing a sombrero and holding a bunch of red grapes. He even has a flower tucked behind his ear.

This amusing artwork by Keith Puccinelli is part of the October series by Via Vega, and is a tribute and celebration of the harvest season. It says on the label “Growers, winemakers, and you with your glass, share the lovely October glow of the harvest moon. So enjoy our wines as you taste these vines.” At $15 a bottle, this is a fun and drinkable wine to enjoy—especially for a Halloween party if you’re looking for something killer eye-catching.

Although the vineyard and tasting room are located in Paso Robles, the local connection is Paul Furman, who is general sales manager of both Via Vega and California Pajarosa Floral—one of California’s major rose growers. Furman was pouring at a local cancer benefit when I tasted the donated Via Vega wine.
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Best of Santa Cruz County 2014

The 2014 Santa Cruz County Readers' Poll Come on in, and have a look around. There’s a lot to see—hundreds of winners selected by thousands of GT readers across Santa Cruz County. So if some of this looks familiar, it’s probably because you helped make it happen. But there are always new things to discover, too—you could go to a different winner or runner-up every day in the Food and Drink category alone, and you’d be booked just about until next year’s Best of Santa Cruz County issue comes out.

 

Something Essential Disappears

Lunar and solar eclipses follow one another. Lunar eclipses occur at full moons, and solar eclipses at new moons. Two weeks ago at the full moon we had the blood red moon—a total lunar eclipse (the next one is Oct. 8). On Monday night, April 28 (new moon), as the Sun, Moon and Earth align, a solar eclipse (Sun obscured) occurs. Eclipses signify something irrevocably is changed in our world. The Sun is our essential life force. Monday’s new moon, 9 degrees Taurus, is also an annular solar eclipse when the Moon moves centrally in front of the Sun, yet does not cover the Sun completely. The Sun's outer edges, still visible, form a “ring of fire” around the Moon.

 

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.

 

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Palate-Stretching 101

A wine education with Soif’s experts As a veteran of many weekend wine “seminars” at Soif, I have to confess that I’ve never known less (going in) and learned more (coming out) than I did last week at the Spanish Wine Tasting with ace rep Brian Greenwood. These are classy, casual events and it’s hard to imagine having this much flavor fun anywhere for $20.

 

Martin Ranch Winery

Sauvignon Blanc 2011 One of my favorite wines is Sauvignon Blanc, and this one made by Martin Ranch is particularly lovely. Bright, crisp and refreshing, it’s perfect to pair with fish and shellfish—and good for picnics as it has an easy screw-cap bottle. There’s nothing worse than setting down your blanket, pulling out your sandwiches—and then realizing you don’t have a corkscrew.

 

Foodie File: Red Apple Cafe

Breakfast takes center stage at Gracia Krakauer's Red Apple Cafe Before they moved to Aptos, Gracia and her husband Dan Krakauer would visit friends in Santa Cruz County and eat at the Red Apple Café all the time. Then they moved up here from Santa Monica five years ago, and bought the Aptos location (there’s a separate one in Watsonville) from the family who owned it for two decades.

 

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