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Aug 31st
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Dining

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

Dining Reviews

In-and-Out

In-and-Out

Backstage Lounge quickly dishes up lusciously flavored organic Asian-fusion specialties

Culinary integrity in the midtown-Seabright neighborhood just keeps getting better. And newcomer Backstage Lounge continues the trend, serving Asian-inspired dinners nightly by the Rio Theatre.

Many inexperienced restaurateurs have come and gone at this location since the charming Bea and her Koffee Kup retired. Although the Lounge may be new to the neighborhood, the proprietor, David Jackman, is no neophyte. He has owned Chocolate at Bookshop Santa Cruz for a decade, and before that, So Say We.

Tablecloths with shiny copper-colored brocades of Asian motifs shimmered in the small room where lights with faceted glass shades hung from the ceiling. Bright blue walls added excitement, and an array of jazzy music like you might hear in a 1940s supper club supported the classy ambiance.

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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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Mercury Enters Libra

It’s the week of Burning Man, the temporary, intentional, alternative, art-filled community on the playas of Nevada. Mercury, messenger of the Sun, enters Libra this week. Libra is the equalizer, a sign of balance and right human relations. Sometimes with Libra, we can be indecisive and confused while learning how to make balanced and right choices. Sometimes to keep the peace we communicate only what others want to hear. Eventually, we learn how to speak from the heart.

 

Final Cut

Cedar Street Video to close after 10 years at downtown location

 

Banter and Spark

Engaging actors, wry script distinguish lightweight rom-com ‘What If’

 

Back to Silicon Beach

With a new wave of startups, the future of Santa Cruz tech looks more promising than ever
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Himalayan Kitchen

Chef Purna Regmi on the secrets of Nepalese cooking

 

What’s the nicest thing you’ve done for someone this week?

Germany  |  Beekeeper

 

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

 

A Cab To Be Coveted

I first tasted Villa del Monte’s 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon at a Fourth of July party, where the hosts had bought a case of it because they love it and didn’t want to run out. It’s one of those wines that will grab you—in the best way—with its full body and rich fruit characteristics.