When I need a quick bite, a little spice, and nicely cooked greens, I stop by Charlie Hong Kong. Modeled after an Asian street food stand, the little kitchen which served hot dogs for years, dishes up noodle, and rice bowls, soups, and Vietnamese sandwiches using organic ingredients.
I like to sit on the patio under the arched green cover and eat with matching green chopsticks. The large varnished picnic tables are often shared by strangers—cafeteria-style. I helped myself to a cup of filtered water while waiting briefly for my order to be announced at the window.
The Salad Wrap ($2.75) was like a large fresh spring roll served with sweet-tart-salty Hoisin sauce. Crunchy, thin strips of carrot and daikon radish joined thin, white rice noodles, lettuce and a sliver of avocado in a thick, transparent rice paper wrap.
Plus Upcoming Wine Events
Although I had a huge dose of jet lag, having been back home from a month in Europe for a matter of hours, I hightailed it out to Roudon-Smith Winery on a cold and rainy Saturday in December. After all, it was their annual holiday event of wine and chocolate tasting, and—chocoholic that I am—I did not want to miss out on some delicious chocolaty samplings with some of my favorite wines.
My husband was already at the winery when I arrived—going straight there from a meeting—and standing under the redwoods to save me a parking space. Roudon-Smith is in a bucolic setting a couple of miles down Bean Creek Road in Scotts Valley. It’s owned and operated by Annette and David Hunt and their partner Al Drewke. All of them were there to greet us and chat about wine— and the inclement weather.
Main Street Garden Cafe offers an array of fresh and organic fare for carnivores and vegetarians alike | by Karen Petersen
The dining room looks bigger in daylight, and as Main Street Garden Cafe serves brunch and dinner in the charming home that once housed Theo's Restaurant, the owners have big shoes to fill.
Light from a French door and numerous windows bounce off the glass-topped tables and shiny hardwood floors. Colorful lilies in stainless steel vases adorned each table. Comfortable armed captains chairs were upholstered in muted tan and teal.
The brunch menu includes homemade granola, Belgian waffles, salads, panini, pizza, lasagna, eggplant parmesan and pasta.
We walked around to the backyard, where a mesh-covered eating area dotted with propane heaters looks out over a healthy green lawn to the large herb and vegetable garden beyond. Co-owner Evan Borthwick (proprietor of Felton's Redwood Pizzeria) was tending to pizzas in the outdoor wood-fired oven.
Next door to the renowned Bittersweet Bistro sits Bittersweet Express. More than a deli, this smaller sister caters to people on the go with an array of prepared and made-to-order specialties.
The long list of steaming beverages includes cappuccino, mocha chai, and white hot chocolate. In the mornings, breakfast burritos grilled like panini are filled with eggs, cheese, potatoes, onions and choice of meat.
At lunch, the handful of tightly packed tables inside were occupied, so we took a seat on the spacious front patio. Encircled by potted shrubs, healthy Peruvian lilies bloomed brightly, and numerous water bowls were filled for canine companions.
An Artichoke-Swiss Bacon Melt ($8), hot and crisp from the panini press, featured three smoky strips of bacon, their chewy ends extending beyond the long Cuban roll. A hearty slice of melted cheese, sweet caramelized onions and herby artichoke pesto completed this satisfying sandwich.
This song came to mind when I bought a bottle of Quinta Cruz Verdelho. The Verdelho grape, like the famous Madeira, both come from Portugal. Verdelho has been cultivated since about the 1400s in a region of Portugal that makes dry wine—and is also one of the grapes used in the making of Madeira.
It takes somebody like Jeff Emery, a master winemaker better known with his other label – Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard—to want to make something really different. He most certainly likes the challenge of steering away from the usual – preferring to make a wine that’s a step or two from the mainstream—and he started the Quinta Cruz label with this goal in mind.
No matter your mood, there's a local restaurant to thrill you
I'm often asked to name my favorite local restaurant, which is an impossible task because it depends on what I need. Is it spice, greens, romance, comfort, or camaraderie? I love the pizza at five places, and if I crave a fast food burger, does that make it the best in town?
So I've looked back at the 100-plus restaurants I've written about this year, and come up with my most memorable culinary experiences.
I love to try new foods, and this year we welcomed back Vasili Karagiannopoulos at his The Greek in downtown Santa Cruz. Imam Bayaldi, a baked eggplant dish stuffed with tomatoes, pine nuts and feta, was one of the most flavorful vegetarian dishes I have experienced.
Black China Bakery Café has added dinner time to its repertoire three nights a week. Initially sharing the patio and back room of an interior design studio, the café now occupies the entire building.
A Cheese Plate ($12.50) was listed on the specials board, so I chose a bottle of Valcantera old-vine Spanish Grenache ($19); a bit spicy, smooth, and with a dry finish. Three cheeses were sprinkled with fresh rosemary needles. A medium-hard, sharp, Petit Basque sheep's milk cheese, semi-ripe Brie, and a semi-soft wine-soaked cheese were joined by large, plump, soft dates, colossal green olives, and skinned almonds, and served with rustic bread. Hunger pangs subsided as we nibbled through the textures and flavors; sweet, crunchy, earthy, briny, and creamy.
Before New Year’s resolutions take hold, ’tis the season to indulge
Each year-end brings reflection and subsequent goal-setting. For those of us who resolve to eat healthier, lose weight, or both, Jan. 2 is a day of reckoning. We have but one week to engage in what many would-be dieters fondly refer to as their last supper; when we indulge on favorite foods without remorse.
When skinless chicken breasts become de rigueur, I crave wicked protein. I treated myself to a large Togo’s #9, relatively unchanged from the one I enjoyed at their first store in a rustic cabin-like structure near San Jose State. Warm, finely shaved, seasoned pastrami, its edges rimmed with thin strips of peppered fat, was stuffed into a large white roll with pickles, tomatoes, whole pepperoncini peppers, crisp shredded lettuce and red onion.