Yes, it’s finally open, and from what I’ve seen and tasted, Alderwood and chef Jeffrey Wall will be winning quite a few hearts, minds and taste buds in the coming months.
The high-profile transformation of the old Erik’s Deli in downtown Santa Cruz is astonishing. A wall of glittering bottles lines the long bar, and the exhibition kitchen offers counter seating and a glimpse of the wood-fired soul of Wall’s coastal steakhouse menu.
It’s a menu that includes local produce and a serious selection of oysters, as well as aged and very choice cuts of beef. We started by foraging from a three-tiered plateau of oysters—Compass Point, Skookum Inlet, Hammersley and my favorites, the tiny Pacific Northwest Kumamotos and Royal Miyagis.
After a gabby media meet and greet, we were seated at a long community table next to the floor-to-ceiling glass wall. Alderwood honors its steakhouse concept by filling the large dining room with cozy, round tables and wooden chairs. Although there’s a comforting French accent in the kitchen, the commitment here is to robust, non-fussy dining.
The chef came out as each of our sample courses was presented and introduced the finer points of the dishes. Wall is serious about food, and the first bite of the tartare bar snacks proved it. A confit egg yolk came nestled next to the beef tartare, but I was more impressed with the almost-surreal microdice of smoked beets served with crisp leaves of gem lettuce, pickled mustard and a dusting of dill pollen. All flavors were tuned to 100 percent.
Also from the bar menu were baked potato pommes frites dusted with parmesan to dip into excellent house-made ketchup. The blockbuster item was a pyramid of sourdough onion rings, gossamer and feather-light thanks to carbonation in the sourdough batter, and served with Russian dressing. These were absolutely killer onion rings—and I don’t even like onion rings!—especially when paired with the Tattinger Brut Alderwood poured for us.
Of two gorgeous salads offerings, I fell for a shared bowl of winter greens in shades of pink, burgundy and chartreuse with walnuts and squash oil. Magically intense in flavor—which, I’m coming to believe, is one of Wall’s personal fetishes (in a good way).
Then, partnered with a Hess Collection Cabernet Sauvignon, came a trio of the house specialty—red, juicy, tumescent slices of bone-in ribeye, signature porterhouse (how beef is really supposed to taste, I now suspect), and dry-aged beef tenderloin. These are showcase steaks, no mistake about it, served with three house sauces. My favorite of the options was a Bordelaise of beef and red wine reduction. Classic, Paul Bocuse classic.
The Cabernet partnered perfectly with the beef, which is probably why Santa Cruz Mountains wines were absent from the menu; this region specializes in Pinot Noir. Most carnivore traditionalists prefer bigger wines—Syrah, Cab, French Bordeaux, Malbec—with beef. But it might be both politic and desirable for a few of our top local “big” wines to be included on this menu. Something from Muns or Beauregard Vineyards, for example.
Now a media tasting is not the same as coming in for dinner, ordering, checking out the pacing, service and comfort of the room. But flavors can’t be spun out of thin air. Alderwood’s kitchen can produce dishes with depth, flavor sparkle, and finesse of presentation—exactly what you want when you dine out.
Alderwood, 155 Walnut Ave., Santa Cruz. Open 4 p.m.-midnight Tuesday-Sunday. Entrees $25-$70+, happy hour 4-6:30 p.m. and 9:30-midnight.
Named PinotFile’s 2018 Winery of the Year, Windy Oaks Winery is celebrating by expanding its estate opening hours. Starting Feb. 16, the winery tasting room in Corralitos will be open on Sundays, as well as Saturdays, noon to 5 p.m.