.Burgers to Thai, Santa Cruz’s Best Meals of 2018

My top meal of the year is one that I have enjoyed more than once at Pizzeria Avanti. Sharing the dinner menu with those great house pizzas is a truly righteous lamb burger, served on a brioche bun with sauteed mushrooms and a side of roast potatoes almost too good to be true. Crisp, comforting, loaded with flavor. A small salad, and of course, a glass of Chianti Classico completes this delicious, simple and always-satisfying meal. It just never disappoints. Kudos, Hugo!

This year, Jozseph Schultz outdid himself with a gorgeous spread of dish after delicious dish prepared for a sit-down dinner honoring top music organizations. From pappadams and salmon flatbread to feta Greek salad and Spanish-marinated mushrooms, the India Joze founder and chef wok’d up a feast of his all-star recipes. My favorites included paper-thin spiced baby kale crisps, arugula-cheese tortillas, squid in Greek seasonings, outrageous browned brussel sprouts, quince chutney, eggs with sumac and Egyptian dukka spices, and a fiery fennel and tomato salad.

La Posta provided another top meal this year, starting with an astonishing salad of rose-tinted chicories, burrata, nectarines and a dusting of toasted pistachios. With our salad, we consumed vast quantities of the spectacular house breads, especially the addictive walnut variety. An entree of Fogline Farms chicken breast came stuffed with spinach and ricotta, sliced into plump cylinders on a bed of leeks and crispy roast brussel sprouts. Another star entree was the evening’s special chitarra pasta. Piled high in a bowl, the spaghetti had been well-tossed with housemade Italian fennel sausage, Early Girl tomatoes and spicy red chilis. Dessert was a rustic apple cornmeal cake on a pool of fennel crema, topped with quince mousse. Outrageous.

Oswald delivered on several fronts. One was a major burger topped with melted cheese, aioli and sliced late-harvest tomatoes. Incredible french fries and a butter lettuce salad completed the wonderful lunch. But equally stunning was Oswald’s seared ahi and avocado crostini appetizer, which I like to pair with either a bone-dry Venus No. 1 martini or a Campari and soda.

From Sabieng Thai Cuisine came one of the year’s top meals, starting with spicy green curry. A salad of bean thread noodles laced with fat prawns, ground pork, lime juice, cilantro, red peppers and whole cashews—bite for bite, I’d have to say that this is my all-time favorite Thai specialty. A third dish of roast duck nestled on a very crunchy bed of wok’d cabbage and spinach added plenty of textural excitement. A container of memorable pickled peppers in a haunting black bean vinegar accompanied the roast duck. Everything soared with a crisp, white wine and Sabieng’s outrageous brown rice, which has to be the chewiest, most appealing rice on the planet.

Gabriella delivered a sensational gnocchi in eggplant ragu, perfectly paired with Prosecco. And on another occasion, a lunch of rainbow trout over creamy polenta, followed by a classic version of affogato. Espresso, vanilla ice cream and a big, chewy chocolate cookie. Lunch the way it was intended to be.

Beyond Santa Cruz, the Modern in NYC gave me its full two-star Michelin treatment. I’ll never forget a prix-fixe dinner that began with seared prawns and toasted pistachios, along with one of three distinctive breads. The first entreé of tender lobster with shelling beans in fennel sauce was perfection. But so was the second main course of rare duck breast with tiny chanterelles and glazed cherries. Dessert of strawberry bavarian cream ornamented with sorrel cream and nasturtium ice cream completed this terrific meal, accompanied by a racy French Burgundy and some exceptionally well-dressed Manhattanites.

Here’s to a 2019 filled with vibrant culinary experiences. Salut!


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