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Oct 02nd
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Dining

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

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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Dining Reviews

Tip Top Tapas

Tip Top Tapas

Tortilla Flats has been preparing gourmet Mexican cuisine for more than 30 years. The unique dinner menu at this small restaurant in the heart of Soquel Village is augmented by Tapas selections on Mondays and Tuesdays, fusing Spanish and Mexican flavors in small plates.

I was surprised by the size of the Original Margarita. It was served in a husky, multicolored, translucent glass, and flavored with orange liqueur and freshly-squeezed lime juice.

The dishes were served in succession beginning with a pair of hot house-made corn tortillas. Albóndigas ($6), or meatballs, are popular Spanish Tapas fare. Seven dense balls of velvety ground beef and veal were topped with crumbled queso fresco and a salty and spicy dark sauce seasoned with paprika.

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Wine Reviews

Vino Tabi 2008 Rosé of Zinfandel

Vino Tabi 2008 Rosé of Zinfandel

There are those times in one’s wine-drinking life when a beautiful Rosé is like an epiphany. Drinking the popular Chardonnays and Merlots as often as we do, sometimes the thought of a Rosé wine never comes into the picture. How often do you order a Rosé when you’re out to dinner? It’s easy to forget about the Rosés of this world when confronted with a plethora of reds and whites.

Stopping by Vino Tabi’s tasting room one afternoon, winemaker Katie Fox said, “Try this Rosé. I just love it.” She was referring to her Rosé of Zinfandel 2008 Central Coast ($22 and available only at the winery). One sip and I was smitten. A very pretty coral-ruby color, this excellent wine has a very definite essence of chocolate and strawberries—with just a hint of rhubarb. It’s not cloyingly sweet as are some Rosés—and in fact has quite a tart cherry finish.

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Dining Reviews

Flying South for Brunch

Flying South for BrunchBright and lively describe both the atmosphere and food at Nuevo Southwest Grill

Weekend brunch at Nuevo Southwest Grill offers both creative south-of-the-border-themed entrées and familiar fare as well. Choices ‘From the West’ ($5.95 to $9.50) include smoked salmon served on flatbread. ‘From the South’ ($7.25 to $8.95) you might select the shredded meat Machaca.
A raised platform gives tables farthest from the large windows unobstructed light. There is a free and open feeling here, with high ceilings supported by beams. Contrasting turquoise trim adds a pleasant vibrancy. A covered patio is also available for seating, and a couple of tables by the sidewalk are filled on sunny days.
My glass of tropical iced tea ($1.75) hinted refreshingly of fruit and was always quickly refilled. In the Nuevo Scramble ($8.50), bright multicolored corn tortilla strips were mixed with Cajun sausage, cheese and three scrambled eggs to create a flavorful, but not incendiary combination. An ice cream scoop of chunky, fresh, and unblemished guacamole and salsa fresca with chipotle added a kick and even more color to this filling dish.
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Dining Reviews

Seabright Sandwiches

Seabright Sandwiches

Many a Madison Avenue Marketeer might marvel at the creatively-crafted slogan, concocted legend, classically-executed artwork, and glitzy website: but it’s the hamburgers at Betty Burgers that steal the show.

The oddly-shaped lot on the corner of Murray and Seabright has seen many businesses come and go, but Betty is blessed frequently with lines of hungry people lingering about her double doors. She also welcomes phone-in orders with a special pick-up and beverage-only line.

Promising “juicy patties and hot buns,” the streamlined menu features an assortment of hot sandwiches, each with pickles, onions, lettuce, tomato, and flavored mayonnaise-based sauces called lubes.

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Dining Reviews

Fork in the Road

Fork in the Road

10 Dishes You Need to Know About
Santa Cruz County has plenty of creative diversity. But the same can be said for its culinary offerings, especially ethnic dishes. Take note of 10 that captured our interest.

Pumpkin Red Curry
What It Is: Succulent scallops plus sizeable prawns and chicken pieces are encased in a fragrant, red curry sauce featuring pumpkin and Thai basil. You will swallow any pride and lick up every last drop; like all the restaurant’s dishes, you can taste the freshness. The recipe comes from Thailand native Dee Hongmanee, who co-owns Sawasdee with her husband Bill and creates all the recipes.
Get It Here
: Sawasdee, 5050 Soquel Dr, Soquel, 462-5051

 

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On the Waterfront

As the wharf celebrates its centennial, a personal reflection on its essential place in Santa Cruz’s history

 

Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, occurs this year during Libra, the sign of creating right relations with all aspects life and with earth’s kingdoms. We contemplate (the Libra meditation) forgiveness, which means, “to give for another.” Forgiveness is not pardon. It’s a sacrifice (fire in the heart, giving from the heart). Forgiveness is giving up for the good of the other. This is the law of evolution (the path of return).

 

The New Tech Nexus

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

 

Film, Times & Events: Week of September 26

Santa Cruz area movie theaters >
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Melinda’s

New Capitola bakery takes gluten-free goods to the next level

 

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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

 

Apricot Wine for Dessert

Thomas Kruse Winery, a participant in the new Santa Clara Wine Trail, has been around for a long time—since 1971, to be exact. When our little group arrived to try some wine at the Kruses’ low-key tasting room, Thomas Kruse and his wife Karen were there to greet us. Theirs is a small operation, and they’re proud to offer quality wine at affordable prices. “Because we are small and low-tech, it’s easy to relate to the whole winemaking process,” says Karen—and the Kruses take pride in making wine “just like it has been made for centuries.”