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Jan 24th
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Food & Drink

Wine Reviews

Ahlgren Vineyard Syrah 2004

Ahlgren Vineyard Syrah 2004

Plus Upcoming Wine Events
Most red wine drinkers love Syrah. It’s bold, meaty, smoky and peppery—a robust brew that pairs extremely well with meat.

The 2004 Syrah, Ventana Vineyards, Monterey—made by Ahlgren Vineyard – is a pretty good wine for around $9 (from Deer Park Wine & Spirits). Winemaker Dexter Ahlgren, who, with his wife Valerie, has operated his vineyard in Boulder Creek for more than three decades, has made a wine here that’s big and bold—and, in this case, unfined and unfiltered. The winemaker’s comments on the label say “Deep and dark, classic Syrah bouquet with bright, spicy flavors.” It’s also rich, complex, a downright bargain—and the perfect wine to take to SmoQe BBQ & Wood Fired Pizza.

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Dining Reviews

Make Yourself at Home

Make Yourself at Home

The service at Felton's Rockys Cafe is sure to put a smile on your face

In the rear of a vintage mountain home, neighbors enjoyed breakfast and lunch just steps from Highway 9. Relaxing at Rockys in Felton reminded me of cozy roadside meals eaten after a day of Sierra skiing. The lone server, with impeccably manicured nails, wore a smile that could brighten the grayest of mornings.

The restaurant is mostly windowed, with views of young redwoods. On the rustic recycled wood walls hang framed portraits of smiling pooches. The yard may not be as idyllic as it could be, but we came for the food and the service.

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Dining Reviews

Far from Plastic

Far from Plastic

In the mood for Japanese food, I sauntered into the little Totoro Sushi on Mission Street. Presented with both a lunch and special sushi menu, I knew immediately what I wanted. Something I had first seen, but made of plastic.

In Japan it is common to see plastic food samples in an eatery's windows. The idea for these replica foods materialized in the 1920s when a young entrepreneur made wax molds to help restaurants show customers how new western dishes appeared. Faux food has since grown into a huge industry. Each dish is custom made, based on photographs and sketches of a chef's dish. A silicon mold is taken of the actual food, and expert artists make plastic sauces, condiments and garnishes. Sometimes, the replica appears more appetizing than the original.

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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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Force of Nature

Santa Cruz’s Carlie Statsky brings her love of the natural world to the hyper-personal art of wedding photography

 

Mercury Retrograde in Aquarius

The magical time of Mercury’s retrograde cycle is here once again, until Feb. 11, and then some. The Mercury retro cycle actually lasts eight weeks when we consider its retrograde shadow, giving us six months a year for review. We know the rules of Mercury retro: Be careful with everything; cars, driving, money, resources, friends, friendships, groups, interactions, thinking, talking, communications. Avoid big purchases, important meetings and important repairs. Mercury retrograde times are for review, reassessment and rest. Our minds are overloaded from the last Mercury retro. Our minds need to assess what we’ve done since October—eliminating what is not needed, keeping what’s important, preparing for new information in the next three months (till mid-May). Mercury in Aquarius retrograde … we reinvent ourselves, seek the unusual, we don’t hide, we’re just careful. We live in two worlds; outer appearances and inner reckonings, with both sides of our brain activated. Yet, like the light of the Gemini twins, one light waxes (inner world), the other (outer realities) wanes. Like Virgo, we see what’s been overlooked—assessing, ordering and organizing information. It’s an entirely inner process. When speaking we may utter only half of the sentence. We’re in the underworld, closer to Spirit, eyes unseeing, senses alerted, re-doing things over and over till we sometimes collapse. Because we’re in other realms, we’re wobbly, make mistakes, and don’t really know what we want. It’s not a time for decisions. Not yet. It’s a time of review. And completing things. Mercury retro: integration, slowing down, resolution, rapprochement.

 

The New Tech Nexus

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

 

Film, Times & Events: Week of January 23

Santa Cruz area movie theaters >
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Bye Bye Benten!

Benten closing, plus Award-winning gin, a massive burrito and chocolate review

 

Trout Gulch Vineyards

Scanning the shelves of Deluxe Foods of Aptos, which carries an impressive selection of local and imported wines, I picked up a bottle of Trout Gulch Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, described as “a local favorite” by the busy market.

 

Cremer House

What’s old is cutting-edge again in Felton

 

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