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Aug 02nd
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Dining

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

Dining Reviews

Secret Garden

Secret Garden

Like most liquor stores, neon signs which announce the availability of beer shine through plate glass windows. But at Garden Liquors and Deli, a majority of customers come for the food.

During a recent lunch hour, a steady stream of large and small salads ($2.75 to $5.95) was pulled from the self-serve deli case. The wide variety included Chicken Caesar, Chef, Spinach, and Tuna Salad. Also available for a quick getaway was a selection of Saran-wrapped sandwiches, fresh fall apples, and numerous desserts— including squares of Tiramisu and wedges of multicolored cheesecake.

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Wine Reviews

Pelican Ranch Winery 2008 Chardonnay

Pelican Ranch Winery 2008 Chardonnay

Pelican Ranch Winery makes a good Chardonnay. After all, the owner and winemaker, Phil Crews, is a professor of chemistry at UC Santa Cruz, so he certainly knows a thing or two about blending and fermenting—be it wine or chemicals.

This particular Chardonnay, a 2008 Los Carneros Napa Valley, Mitsuko’s Vineyard—is really luscious. Phil professes he made it to be “bold and delicious”—and he’s succeeded. Some Chardonnays are crisp and light, but this one is more complex with heavy fruit, toasty oak, vanilla and butterscotch from the full malolactic secondary fermentation. Notes of ripe pear and apple are in there also, with a hint of vanilla. All in all, it’s a lovely Chardonnay, which would pair well with almost anything. Certainly the “toasty oak” in the wine is not overwhelming, which can really detract from the refreshing flavors of a good Chardonnay.

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Dining Reviews

Raising the Bar

Raising the BarInside and out, the bar menu at Verve Lounge sets the standard

lthough the building has housed numerous dark and rustic watering holes, the renovation undertaken by Verve Lounge in Aptos has created a light and lively club. A stage and large dance floor feature music nightly and flavorful bar food quells the appetite.
Large windows now light the decidedly upscale interior where tall tables with black high-backed chairs make perfect conversation spots. The long, shiny bar is lined with soda fountain-style chrome stools with chic red upholstery.
On a Saturday afternoon, owner Deb Schottgen was stocking the bar for the crowd that would later enjoy the music of local band Extra Large. It was happy hour, when well drinks and draft beers are just $3.
The bar menu includes pulled pork or burger sliders, Panini, hot links and wings ($7). From 5 to 8 p.m., larger plates ($7 to $10) include side salads and chips. And recently, crab cakes were added to the Friday menu.
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Dining Reviews

Singing in the Abbey

Singing in the Abbey

At the busy corner of Mission Street and Highway 1 stands a large and attractive brick church where a meeting hall has been transformed into a popular non-profit coffee, art, and music lounge.

On one side of the comfortable, high-ceilinged room, green velvet settees loaded with colorful pillows, floor to ceiling drapes, and crystal chandeliers give it an operatic feel. Elsewhere patrons enjoyed coffee and conversation at various sizes of both tall and short tables. Laptops appeared in abundance, taking advantage of free Cruzio hotspot wireless internet and numerous electrical power strips.

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Wine Reviews

Trout Gulch Vineyards 2007 Chardonnay

Trout Gulch Vineyards 2007 ChardonnayGerry Turgeon has been making award-winning Chardonnay since 1988. Until very recently, his Trout Gulch Vineyards never had a tasting room open to the public. I have seen Turgeon here and there at many wine events such as Passport and the Vintners’ Festival—usually pouring at a restaurant or other location. Now all that has changed since he moved in with the Surf City Vintners. Trout Gulch (named for its location on Trout Gulch Road in Aptos) deserves its own tasting room on Swift Street—and even though it’s not open every weekend, you can easily find their wines at most wine bars, restaurants and in local supermarkets.
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Dining Reviews

Get S’mac

Get S’mac

The Red’s mac ’n’ cheese (and beer pairing) is downright irresistible

The last time I really truly indulged in macaroni and cheese I was 7 years old. I was living in Chicago at the time. My friend Nancy used to invite me over to her house, down the block, and together, we’d concoct a fairly lovely batch of Kraft’s macaroni and cheese, pile it high on our plates and then pour a river of ketchup all over it. Delicious. I gained 10 pounds that year. I feared cheese-and-carb combos ever since.

So, fighting back the flashback from my youth, I decided to be brave and experience the Red’s S’mac Pairing Dinner in Downtown Santa Cruz. It sounded like the most curious food and beverage marriage since my Polish family insisted vodka was a good chaser for Polish sausage. Four courses with four different beer brews—four different and unique experiences for the palate.

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Dining Reviews

Italian Village

Italian Village

The Star Bene family offers Old World hospitality with its Italian recipes

quartet of old friends discussed business and life over dinner, joined later by a woman and young boy. The table then erupted in excitement as Grandmother made her entrance. As is characteristic of European neighborhood restaurants, it was from this table that Sergio Di Sarro, an owner of Star Bene, arose to welcome us into his dining room.

On this particular mid-week evening, the back patio was empty. Inside the home, plastered walls with rounded corners were faux-painted in delicate colors, and were romantically illuminated by numerous lights. A bottle of Sangiovese, one of our favorite varietals, miraculously decorated our table, which was also stocked with crayons for adorning the clean white paper tablecloth covers.

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Dining Reviews

A Lush Cliff

A Lush Cliff

People often wait on the sidewalk in front of tiny Cliff Cafe. The photocopied and stapled menu is three pages long, and from the narrow strip of a kitchen come thoughtfully-designed and marvelously-flavored breakfast and lunch.

Thick, translucent plastic protects the brightly-colored tablecloths on just six tables. A stainless steel Metro rack holds coffee cups and a selection of children's books.

Choose from simple, wholesome Chunky Oatmeal ($4.75) with raisins or dates ($1) to filling omelets ($6.95 to $9.25) like the bacon, avocado, tomato and cheese. At 11:30 a selection of five sandwiches ($6 to $7.75) joins the lineup. Of special note are the six tofu sautés.  Neither an afterthought or a simple substitute for scrambled eggs, these dishes are designed with tofu in mind, and I noted the aroma of turmeric wafting from the kitchen from one of these masterpieces.

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Wine Reviews

2005 La Rusticana d’Orsa Red Table Wine

2005 La Rusticana d’Orsa Red Table Wine

When Ralph DiTullio of Nonno’s Italian Cafe called to invite me to lunch at La Rusticana d’Orsa, I accepted immediately. La Rusticana is hardly ever open to the public, and this was my golden opportunity to visit the winery and try some of their gorgeous wines.

A group of about 20 people meet up at Nonno’s—an Aladdin’s cave of wine. DiTullio’s passion for this beverage shows in his collection of wines from all over the world, plus an outstanding array from the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation. Cafe, deli and wine bar rolled into one, Nonno’s is truly a charming place. Wine tastings are held most Saturdays—and there’s a bocce ball court to add to the fun.

The owners of La Rusticana, Frank and Marilyn Dorsa, bought the estate in Los Gatos years ago and have dedicated their time to getting their 40-acre property exactly as they want it. It’s an exquisite place—full of bronze statues, beautiful fountains, lily ponds and breathtaking gardens. One could be in Italy on the most magnificent property, but here we are in Los Gatos, hidden away in the rolling hills.

DiTullio, an ebullient fellow who loves wine and food, immediately pours some La Rusticana wine for our group—a glass to carry with us as we go on a tour of the property. I had been here some years ago, but the estate is even more stunning now.

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Dining Reviews

Light Bites

Light Bites

Around the county, happy hours offer reasonably-priced hunger-crushing snacks

I got to thinking about small plates while reading the book 'Tapas' by Joyce Goldstein. In Spain's early evenings, neighbors visit pubs to socialize and snack on proprietors' unique noshes. Hungry, I set out to sample some happy hour treats.

At Michael's on Main, happy hour beverages included selected draft beers ($3), wine ($4), signature cocktails ($5), and well drinks ($4).

From the half-priced bar menu, we started with Cuban Pulled Pork Sliders ($6). A trio of small sesame seed-studded buns was spread with spicy Mojo aioli, stuffed with cabbage and hunks of sweetly-marinated, fall-apart-tender pork, then skewered with a toothpick securing a slice of pickled jalapeno.

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