Pinot Noir 2008
Dozens of bottles of wine had been generously donated by Muccigrosso Vineyards for silent auction at a fundraiser I attended recently. The event was for a friend’s brother whose house needs remodeling—as he’s now wheelchair bound after brain surgery. Held at Hunter Hill Vineyard & Winery—whose owners had donated their beautiful location and gallons of wine—the turnout was amazing and several thousand dollars were raised. I find the wineries of the Santa Cruz Mountains to be extraordinarily generous in supporting the community. Hunter Hill and Muccigrosso wineries are but two of the many in the area who step up to the plate to give a helping hand when needed.
The new fall menu at Johnny’s Harborside offers fresh and comforting fare
I was craving a pleasant, tasty, and leisurely brunch with an exquisite view, so, under a cloudless sky, we headed to Johnny’s Harborside at the small craft harbor. Soft butter melted gently into warm, itty bitty cinnamon-scented muffins which tasted of chocolate with autumn walnuts while we reviewed the new fall menu.
Chef Brian Woods’ new creations include a number of starters such as grilled shrimp cocktail with avocado ($13), grilled romaine salad ($7) with smoked tomatoes and citrus Caesar vinaigrette, warm spinach salad ($9) with bacon vinaigrette, caramelized onions and goat cheese, and vegetarian spring rolls ($7) with sesame vinaigrette.
Roland Konicke, a transplanted New Yorker, worked in and around local farmers markets for years. He missed the Big Apple's pizzas, and set out to let Californians taste the difference, using local, organic ingredients. Even the meat products, from Santa Cruz's El Salchichero, are from local pasture-raised animals.
Konicke sells his Uncle Ro's take & bake pizzas at Santa Cruz farmers markets. Shoppers can snack on a warm slice, or take one home to bake. Local ingredients lead to seasonal combinations, and August's Padrón pepper pies made the local top-ten list.
Temporarily mobility-impaired, (oh, I miss the farmers market), I followed a hint that someone had spied the pies at Whole Foods in Santa Cruz. Right next to the store’s in-house creations were four varieties of Uncle Ro’s ($10.99).
Pinot Noir 2009
Ever since Café Rio opened its doors recently – with brand new owners at the helm – this lovely ocean-view restaurant has done extraordinarily well. Restaurant news spreads quickly in the Santa Cruz area, and the word is that Café Rio has regained its reputation of old and is serving up some excellent food, including their famous and much-loved sand dabs.
Dying to check the new vibe, I finally get there with a friend for a light dinner from the bar menu – knowing ahead of time that I would order of one of my favorites – seared ahi tuna. We also order some delicious smoked salmon and tender deep-fried calamari.
Crow’s Nest launches daily breakfast
Stand-up paddle boarders, scullers, kayakers and a back-pedaling otter floated down the channel followed by Team O'Neill with a boat load of school children. Two sets of twin toddlers pranced happily in the sand while a runner and dog-walker made their way down the levee toward the lighthouse. It is the familiar view from the comfortable Crow's Nest, and now it's available at breakfast.
With all those healthy people exercising outside, I assuaged my guilt with a reminder that breakfast is the most important meal, and, coincidentally, that's the way it was treated by the Crow's Nest kitchen.
From the ceiling of the little market and bakery hang piñatas of all shapes and sizes, but the bakery cases were practically empty at nine in the morning. We were quickly greeted by co-owner Jorge Hernandez who sent us into the kitchen where we selected eight just-baked pastries ($10.60) from the six-foot tall racks of colorful, sweet and savory breads in multitudinous shapes and sizes.
Although El Rosal has a huge selection, Hernandez said his bakery makes far fewer than the 500 or more varieties in Mexico's repertoire.
The Spaniards first brought wheat to the New World, and for a short time in the 1860s the French brought expert pâtissiers. Hernandez says that each of the Mayan tribes in the south and the Aztecs farther north added their own touch to these foreign influences, creating the wonderful diversity.
Hoffman’s hands reigns over to Food Network for an extreme makeover
There was suspense and drama, frustration and anticipation, showmanship and emotion. Like Roger Craig at Albertson’s, Lance Armstrong on Beach Street, and James Durbin at Loudon Nelson, this was a Santa Cruz moment. Food Network was in town.
When I read about the filming of Restaurant Impossible at Hoffman’s, I called for reservations along with every other self-professed foodie in town. Upwards of fifty redials and no luck. I felt like the Queen of Sheba on Monday when an associate said there was a seat for me.
Cabernet Sauvignon 2009
Zameen Mediterranean Cuisine is a casual, inexpensive dining spot in Aptos with a focus on Persian and Mediterranean food. It’s an ideal restaurant for seven women friends to have dinner where we can share a good laugh, and not-so-subdued conversation. And food is ordered over the counter so each can pay his own bill.
Zameen owner, Ed Watson, carries a few local wines, but plans to eventually stock a whole lot more. I order a bottle of Francis Coppola Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 ($21)—part of the Diamond Collection – with fruit from various California vineyards. A hearty Cab is just what’s needed to go with robust foods such as falafel, lamb wraps, Mediterranean meatballs and spiced chicken kebab.