Practically the whole of Santa Cruz knows by now that talented local chef Jake Gandolfo is appearing on the MasterChef cooking show series on Fox TV—on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. until mid-September. By the time this article comes out, he may have proceeded to the next food preparation challenge, or he may have been eliminated. But whatever happens, he’s certainly had his share of 15 minutes of fame—and demand for his cuisine is escalating.
I was busy the night Jake invited me to a gathering of friends to celebrate his being on the MasterChef show, so we met at Clouds Downtown for a catch-up chat. I had just bought a superb bottle of wine to write about—a Clos Tita Gironde 2006, Santa Cruz Mountains—and I took it along to share with Jake. J-P Correa, owner of VinoCruz downtown Santa Cruz, had poured me some to try, and I absolutely loved it.
Dark and rich with lots of earthy, mushroom-y undertones, the wine’s complex flavors are delightful. The Gironde ($26), named after Gironde Valley in Bordeaux, is a luscious blend from different vineyards—55 percent Cabernet Sauvignon from Guldimann Saratoga and Peter Martin Ray Vineyard, 33 percent Merlot from Flatness Los Gatos Vineyard, and a touch of Cabernet Franc—12 percent—from Blackridge Los Gatos Vineyard. This unfiltered wine, made by local dentist David Estrada, is all produced and bottled by Estrada’s Clos Tita Winery in Santa Cruz. Clos is French for “closed” or “enclosure” and his wife Britta’s nickname is Tita—hence the name of the winery.
Estrada, whose practice is in Scotts Valley, has a passion for wine and wanted to grow his own grapes and make his own wine so he planted his dry-farmed hillside vineyard in 1990—with seven different clones of Pinot Noir. It lies about a mile out of Scotts Valley.
Some of Clouds’ delicious Blackened Ahi Tuna with a Napa Cabbage Slaw is brought to our table, and Jake and I thoroughly enjoy the tender fish, served with some very piquant ginger and eye-watering wasabi. Clouds Downtown serves up excellent food, and offers an abundant appetizer selection if it’s simply a light bite you need. As well as having a good wine and mixed drinks selection, they make the most killer martinis.
Jake and I end our get-together by toasting his success with a glass of Gironde. To appear on MasterChef, out of the thousands who apply, is a feat in itself. Whether he wins or not, he’s already a star.
Clos Tita, 4 Kendall Lane, Santa Cruz, 439-9235. clos-tita.com. Clouds Downtown, 110 Church St., Santa Cruz, 429-2000. cloudsdowntown.com.
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