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Apr 25th
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Food & Drink

Dining Reviews

Mediterranean Morning

Mediterranean Morning

Ristorante Italiano jumps into brunch, melding Italian flavors and American favorites

Out on the deck, the fog had just cleared, leaving us basking in the summer sun deciding on what to eat for brunch. The mural on the exterior wall at Ristorante Italiano comes to life in the early light, featuring faces of employees past and present in an animated Italian street scene.

Unfortunately, bottomless mimosas ($10) would hinder the day's remaining commitments, but other single-serving champagne specialties were delicious. The Bellini ($4.50) combined the sweet tartness of puréed canned peaches with a bit of the bubbly, while the Hibiscus, in which floated a plump raspberry, was red with cranberry juice. We sipped from our sparking flutes while Petula Clark, Dusty Springfield, Neil Diamond, and other light rock from the ’70s wafted softly through the air.

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Dining Reviews

Mama Mel's Kitchen

Mama Mel's Kitchen

Across Soquel Drive from the old drive-in, Mel's Market and Deli sits ready and waiting to fuel treasure hunters and those awaiting patients at Sutter Surgery Center. The miniature market is stocked with almost every chilled beverage imaginable, as well as basic necessities for the kitchens of its surrounding neighborhoods. It looks tiny from the street, but the deli extends out behind an adjacent house, with a suitable amount of indoor seating. There are also a few tables in front, and two more in the back, where you might find neighbors chatting over lunch or offering snacks to the giant, furry, red dog Blue.

The Deviled Eggs ($1.25), their seasoned yolks flecked with paprika, were velvety without excessive mayonnaise.

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Wine Reviews

Hunter Hill Vineyard & Winery

Hunter Hill Vineyard  & WineryOld Vine Zinfandel 2009

Hunter Hill’s new release of their Old Vine Zinfandel 2009 ($25) is a bold and luscious wine that has been aged for one year in American oak. Grapes to make this fruit-forward wine come from the ancient Mohr-Fry Ranches’ vineyards in the Lodi appellation, resulting in a rich and full-bodied elixir. Zinfandel lovers will truly appreciate the complexities, aromas and flavors captured inside every bottle – and the full-bodied, jammy rich finish only leaves you wanting more. Fortunately, 250 cases were produced, so the winery is not going to run out any time soon.

Hunter Hill is a gorgeous place to visit. Owners Christine and Vann Slatter are justly proud of their property – now complete with stunning pond and water feature. Vines heavy with fruit extend up the hillside, and at this time of year everything is green and lush.

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Dining Reviews

Ono Hawaii Calls

Ono Hawaii Calls

Pono Hawaiian Grill brings island magic to Cypress Lounge

Cypress Lounge now shares its space with Pono Hawaiian Grill, brought to you by “Braddah” Timmy Hunt who previously co-owned Aloha Island Grill. The menu holds a bounty of traditional Hawaiian dishes and those influenced by Asian cuisine.

The Lounge’s interior now sports island-themed art, and the large patio has been revitalized with tropical ginger plants, woven reed wallpaper, and a roof thatched with palm fronds. Aloha Fridays feature live Hawaiian music.

Appetizers ($2.50 to $7.95) such as Hawaiian Fresh Spring rolls with pineapple-macadamia nut hoisin sauce, and Manapua dumplings filled with char siu pork make perfect bar snacks. Salads ($4.50 to $6.95) include Da Mana Salad, a vegetarian mixture of tofu poke, brown rice and vegetables.

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Dining Reviews

Delicious Detour

Delicious Detour

Stromboli is an island near Sicily with an active volcano that is known for spewing fireballs of lava. It is also the name of the puppeteer in Disney’s rendition of Pinocchio, which I was reminded of while visiting the Magic Kingdom. This brought to mind my favorite Stromboli, an edible masterpiece created by Tony Dimaggio Sr. On my way home from the Diridon Airport I hungrily detoured 10 miles south on Highway 87.

Dimaggio emigrated from Sicily to New York in 1958, moving later to Pennsylvania, and then to San Jose, where he opened his restaurant in 1977. Dimaggio’s was one of the stops after company softball games. In addition to Stromboli, I fondly recall pitchers of beer, garlic bread, pizza, lasagna and laughter.

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Wine Reviews

Pelican Ranch Winery

Pelican Ranch Winery

Syrah 2009


Relocating to a new tasting room in Capitola turned out to be a good move for Pelican Ranch. Winery owners Phil and Peggy Crews now have much more space to host the many customers who visit them – and that is just what they need to show off their wonderful wines. When I visited them for their grand opening at the beginning of the year, they had set up tables outside with food, and for their annual wine club party at the end of August, it will be convenient for them to have this spacious area to spread out yet again.

This small family-owned winery specializes in Rhone and Burgundy-style wines with grapes harvested from prime vineyards.

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Dining Reviews

Welcome back to Rio

Welcome back to Rio

Good times are once again rolling at Cafe Rio

We couldn't get a dinner reservation until 7:30 on a Tuesday night, demonstrating that Cafe Rio has opened with a bang. Laughter filled the air as families finished their meals, while the numerous servers and staff members buzzed around the large dining area.

I sipped house cabernet ($5) from Butterfield Station, full of ripe berries, while dipping pieces of soft-crusted baguette in olive oil which was gently seasoned with bits of garlic and herbs.

B. & B. Seared Ahi Tuna ($16) appears as an appetizer at dinner and also on the bar menu. Strips of fish with smoky charred surfaces and watermelon-pink interiors were served with searing soy mustard dressing on a bed of sautéed onions and multicolored bell peppers.

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Dining Reviews

Midtown Marketplace

Midtown Marketplace

I first met Chef Joshua Server in 2008 at the Live Oak Farmers Market where he was cooking brunch from his Conscious Creations Catering booth. I feasted upon his bright, fruit-topped, muffin-like Coconut-Kahlua Banana Pancakes with natural maple syrup.

In May, the name Conscious Creations Cafe appeared on the door of the old Black China Bakery Cafe on Soquel Avenue, and I've been eagerly awaiting the chance to sample more of Chef Joshua's organic specialties.

The patio is furnished with pale blue sofas, and inside, an attractive wraparound service counter with prep and display area has been added. The cafe will double as a market featuring local products. On this day there were beautiful candies from Ashby Confections of Aptos and Fruitful jellies made from central coast produce.

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Wine Reviews

Pleasant Valley Vineyards

Pleasant Valley Vineyards

Syrah 2008, Sean Boyle Family Reserve

Pleasant Valley Vineyards is making some splendid wines these days. Their Sean Boyle 2008 Syrah Family Reserve is absolutely top notch – and, at $40, is worth the splurge.

The grapes for this luscious beauty are grown at Lester Family Vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The Lester property is well worth a visit (see event info below) when the opportunity arises. Their acres and acres of perfectly tended vines – which, in turn, produce perfect grapes – is an awesome sight, indeed.

But back to the Syrah: As it says on the label, it is handcrafted from nurtured, hand-trained, de-leafed and harvested vines. It is then aged exclusively in small oak barrels, and bottled unfiltered and unfined – giving a richer and denser mouthfeel.

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Dining Reviews

Sampling Sichuan Spices

Sampling Sichuan Spices

The popular O'mei on Mission continues to dazzle diners with its array of flavors

For more than 30 years O'mei Restaurant has served its classy renditions of Chinese cuisine on busy Mission Street. It had been some time since I had visited, and was looking forward to its special brand of spiciness.

We were offered a dinner menu, a specials menu which included seasonal Chinese vegetables, and the express menu which included noodle bowls, sautées and chow mein.

We chose two appetizers ($3) from a tray of six. String beans were mixed with plenty of garlic. Tanned and lacquered cashews were polka dotted with black and white sesame seeds for a sweet and salty snack.

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We Can Rebuild You

A look back at how downtown Santa Cruz recovered from the 1989 earthquake

 

International Earth Day—Mother Earth Day

Every April 22, humanity celebrates International Mother Earth Day and Earth Day. As more than a billion people participate in Earth Day activities every year, Earth Day has become the world’s largest civic observance. The massive concern to build right relations between humanity and the living being we call Earth is evidence of humanity’s love of the Mother. In 2009, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed April 22 International Mother Earth Day, with a significant resolution affirming “the interdependence existing among human beings, other living species (the kingdoms—mineral, plant, animal and human) and the planet itself, the Earth which we all inhabit.” The Earth is our home. Celebrating Earth Day helps us define new emerging processes (economic, social, political) focused on the well-being of the kingdoms. Through these, humanity seeks to raise the quality of life, foster equality and begin to establish right relations with the Earth. We dedicate ourselves to bringing forth balance and a relationship of harmony with all of nature. Learn about planting a billion trees (the Canopy Project); participate in 1.5 billion acts of green. Disassociation (toward Earth) is no longer viable. We lose our connection to life itself. Participation is viable—an anchor, refuge and service for all of life on Earth. Visit earthday.org; harmonywithnatureun.org; and un.org/en/events/motherearthday for more information. From Farmers Almanac, “On Earth Day, enjoy the tonic of fresh air, contact with the soil, companionship with nature! Go barefooted. Walk through woods, find wildflowers and green moss. Remain outside, no matter the weather!” Nature, Earth’s most balanced kingdom, heals us. The New Group of World Servers is preparing for the May 3 Wesak Buddha Taurus solar festival. We prepare through asking for and offering forgiveness. Forgiveness purifies and like nature, heals.

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Mission Critical

How reading Lisa Jensen’s reviews taught me to love film
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Sarah’s Vineyard

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Munch

East Coast meets West Coast in new meat lover’s paradise