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Sep 19th
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Dining

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

Wine Reviews

Bartolo 2007 Cioppino Rosso

Bartolo 2007 Cioppino Rosso

Plus Upcoming Wine Events
Barry Jackson, winemaker at Equinox, not only makes a fine sparkling wine, made in the methode champenoise style, but he also directs his talents to another of his labels—Bartolo—in the form of a fine red wine called Cioppino Rosso, a blend of 61 percent Syrah, 20 percent Chardonnay and 19 percent Mourvedre. “I call it Cioppino,” says Jackson, laughing, “because I throw all these leftovers in a pot.” He’s referring, of course, to the famous fish stew—first made by Italian immigrants. Jackson is not without a sense of humor—although the bottom line is he takes his winemaking very seriously. But the label spills the beans on what Cioppino’s all about. It says, “An eclectic blend of ever-changing varietals, Cioppino Rosso, as its culinary namesake, is composed of odd bits and wines nobody else wanted.” I can’t think of another winemaker who would—tongue in cheek— describe their wine as being made from “odd bits.” The label continues with “The wine pairs well with a broad range of foods and is, of course, fabulous with Cioppino.”

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Dining Reviews

Long Live the Linguini

Long Live the Linguini

Celebrating 30 years, Ristorante Italiano's bright flavors and generous portions ensure its distinction as a local favorite

I'm fortunate to occasionally work in Branciforte Plaza, where the aroma of Ristorante Italiano's roasting garlic wafts across the parking lot. Many reasonably priced specials grace the lunch menu, which I happily order to savor in the office. One day, as the sun set, waves of laughter emanate from the heated patio deck, where groups gather to relax after work, and families celebrate birthdays. On the building's exterior, an extraordinary three-story mural depicting an Italian avenue adds a whimsical touch.

In the restaurant's main dining area, where ceiling joists are painted a lively green and autographed straw-encased Chianti bottles commemorate dinners of the past, subdued lighting and romantic booths set the stage for the spectacle of Italian specialties. A ceiling fan turned slowly, barely rustling the thin leaves of a tall parlor palm in the solarium-like front room.

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Dining Reviews

All Sauced Up

All Sauced Up

On an unassuming stretch of Soquel Drive, El Chino Mexican Deli Restaurant occupies a narrow storefront.

Inside, lively fiesta music plays on the stereo, decorative eaves with clay tiles jut from the walls, and healthy live plants crawl across rafters, creating the comfortable illusion of dining in a sidewalk cantina.

The list of weekday lunch specials ($5.85 to $7.50) includes avocado-chicken salad, enchiladas, chili rellenos and carne azada burritos. We were drawn to the generously plated house specialties, each of which occupied half of their oval pottery platters.

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Dining Reviews

Two Sweet for Words

Two Sweet for WordsBehold the beautifully luscious treats of local chocolatiers, Richard Donnelly and Ian and Mary Rose Mackenzie
Behind an attractive storefront on Mission Street in Santa Cruz, Richard Donnelly makes internationally award-winning chocolates and truffles. At the front door, customers gather in the small retail space. Bookshelves and tables hold pre-packaged sweets, and a glass cabinet displays available truffle flavors. In the open kitchen, chocolate is being mixed and candies are laid out for packaging. Much of the work here is done by hand—the hand of a master.
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Wine Reviews

Poetic Cellars Petite Sirah 2005

Poetic Cellars Petite Sirah 2005

Plus Upcoming Wine Events

If you’re lusting after some seductive and downright sexy wine for Valentine’s weekend, then look no further than Poetic Cellars. Winemaker Katy Lovell has absolutely nailed it when it comes to making the ultimate romantic nectar.

On the back label of every bottle of Poetic Cellars wine, you will find a poem—and don’t poetry and romance go together like Napoleon and Josephine? I always find myself heaving a sigh when sipping the gorgeous wines of this winery, which is celebrating the one-year opening of its tasting room in Soquel.

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Dining Reviews

Offal Good

Offal Good

Enlightened chefs insist that if we are to eat animals, we must respect them. This calls for a humane life and death, as well as making use of everything they sacrificed. Pondering that philosophy, I waited in line at Taqueria Vallarta studying the new brightly-colored, backlit menu, where lengua (tongue) is one of many meat choices. As I waited at a small table by the window, I was apprehensive. The tongue, after all, was designed to withstand bites.

Waiting to eat something I've never before tried brought forth an unattractive memory. After eating blood sausage as a teenager at a pique-nique on a beach in Normandy, my intestines were so immediately insulted that I sprinted to the nearest WC.

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Wine Reviews

Hallcrest Vineyards Pinot Noir 2005

Hallcrest Vineyards Pinot Noir 2005

Plus Upcoming Wine Events
Hallcrest Vineyards has been around for a long time. Nestled on a hill in the town of Felton, it was originally a retreat in the late 1800s for the Hall family, who actually planted the Hallcrest Estate vineyard. The on-site winery, which was started in 1945, is still in use today. When releasing its first wine in 1946, it was one of only three vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Today, there are about 70 wineries belonging to the Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association (SCMWA) – with new ones springing up all the time.

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Dining Reviews

A Night To Remember

A Night To Remember

There’s enough fun, flavor and festive food at 515 Kitchen & Cocktails to keep you engaged for hours

Oh, these are crispy balls of ginger goodness.” Now, I was certain somebody at the dinner table uttered that statement. I just could not recall which one of us did. There were three of us at a recent visit to 515 Kitchen and Cocktails and you see, it’s the latter part of the moniker of the popular Santa Cruz restaurant that must have gotten us all into some (good) trouble.

“Cocktails.”

Well, in this case it was a bottle of 2008 Byron Pinot Noir from Santa Maria Valley, estate bottled and loads of fun for the palate—an embraceable treat with hints of anise, black cherries and Asian spices. Did we imagine the smoky vanilla?

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Wine Reviews

Aptos Vineyard Chardonnay 2006

Aptos Vineyard Chardonnay 2006It’s rather difficult to pair wine with Indian food. Typically, Indian people do not drink wine with their food. Those wonderful hot and spicy dishes need the cooling flavors of lassi, chai—or just plain water. But friends had invited my husband and I to an authentic Indian meal at their home for 10 people cooked by a lady from Goa on the west coast of India, so I searched for something light to go with the food—and Aptos Vineyard’s Chardonnay ($17 from DeLuxe Foods of Aptos) seemed like just the ticket. It’s an uncomplicated wine with a fruity palate—and with just the sort of apples and pears aroma needed for a zesty Goan feast. It’s certainly not the “buttery” Chardonnay that many wine tasters expect—being much more crisp and perky.
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Dining Reviews

Spice Island

Spice Island

Whether it's the lunch buffet or a selection from the extensive menu, Royal Taj offers vegetarians and carnivores exotic flavors

Mintel Market Research calls Indian food the fastest-growing ethnic cuisine, and those of us who have enjoyed the world of spices at Royal Taj for almost 20 years know why. For those who are not familiar with Indian food, the daily lunch buffet ($8.95) provides a broad introduction. Alternatively, at both lunch and dinner, the menu offers main course specialties both à la carte and served as a meal with rice, flatbread, yogurt sauce and salad.

Dal refers to the family of pulses from lentils to garbanzo beans, which are stewed in vegetarian curries and ground into high protein flour for breads and batters. Dal Makhni ($7.50/$10.50) is primarily urad dal, a small black-skinned bean with a white interior. This thick curry, the color of Texas chili beans, was flavored with whole and ground spices, and mildly piquant.

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Catwalk on the Wild Side

Meet the artists and designers behind this year’s edition of FashionART, SantaCruz’s most outrageous fashion show

 

The New Tech Nexus

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

 

Feeding Frenzy

Culinary journey ‘The Trip to Italy’ isn’t the foodie film you’d expect 

 

Watch List

From Google to the government to data brokers, why your privacy is now a thing of the past
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Best of Santa Cruz County

The 2013 Santa Cruz County Readers' Poll and Critics’ Picks It’s our biggest issue of the year, and in it, your votes—more than 6,500 of them—determined the winners of The Best of Santa Cruz County Readers’ Poll. New to the long list of local restaurants, shops and other notables that captured your interest: Best Beer Selection, Best Locally Owned Business, Best Customer Service and Best Marijuana Dispensary. In the meantime, many readers were ever so chatty online about potential new categories. Some of the suggestions that stood out: Best Teen Program and Best Web Design/Designer. But what about: Dog Park, Church, Hotel, Local Farm, Therapist (I second that!) or Sports Bar—not to be confused with Bra. Our favorite suggestion: Best Act of Kindness—one reader noted Café Gratitude and the free meals it offered to the Santa Cruz Police Department in the aftermath of recent crimes. Perhaps some of these can be woven into next year’s ballot, so stay tuned. In the meantime, enjoy the following pages and take note of our Critics’ Picks, too, beginning on page 91. A big thanks for voting—and for reading—and an even bigger congratulations to all of the winners. Enjoy.  -Greg Archer, EditorBest of Santa Cruz County Readers’ Poll INDEX

 

Santa Clara Wine Trail

My memories of growing up in England include my mother pouring port after Sunday dinner—and sometimes a glass of sherry before dinner. My family didn’t drink much wine back then, but we certainly made up for it with the port and sherry.