Pelican Ranch Winery,
Martin Ranch Winery, Vinocruz, Copious Winery
11 Dishes or Meals That Will Blow You Away
Armed with a fierce passion for food, local boy Jake Gandolfo leads the pack of 2011’s most alluring Culinary Patriots By Tara Fatemi Walker
When Jake Gandolfo was 5 years old, he prepared Ritz Cracker Canapés with Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Garnish, and served them to his parents when they got home from work. This is the first memory he has of a proud culinary creation. But he also vividly recalls his 6th grade class Career Day when a professional chef visited—the young Gandolfo could clearly imagine doing that with his own life. A love for food—and creating things with it—always seemed to be a wild passion. But somehow, the now famous local chef ended up entering the construction field.
“Right around the time I decided to hang up the keys on heavy construction and reinvent myself to pursue the other thing I wanted to do in life, I stumbled upon the opportunity to be a part of MasterChef,” Gandolfo says.
And when that happened, the Felton resident suddenly captured the national spotlight as a finalist on Gordon Ramsay’s popular MasterChef series on Fox TV, which uses a variety of cooking challenges to identify the most talented U.S. amateur chef.
“Being able to work with such culinary geniuses as Ramsay, Graham Elliot and Cat Cora opened me up and allowed me to expand my culinary theater of operations,” Gandolfo says. His dish “Eclectic Surf and Turf,” which earned him one of 30 finalist slots, featured spiedini (to showcase his own Italian heritage, Gandolfo stated), a grilled asparagus bundle tied with a grilled scallion, and scallops with gremolata. Gandolfo didn’t win MasterChef, but he made Santa Cruz proud by making it all the way to the final seven with his creative cooking. He also appears in the MasterChef cookbook, which features recipes from the top 14 finalists and the three judges.
Although Gandolfo didn’t pursue a culinary career until he was in his late thirties, he makes up for any lost time with passion that he throws into his cooking, entertaining, and giving back to the local community. Since late 2010, he has appeared at an astounding number of benefits.
“I love Santa Cruz and being part of its culinary community, and any time I am approached to be involved in functions within the community, I embrace the opportunity,” he says.
There was A Taste of Santa Cruz, which supports first-time low-income home-buyers, where he donated an auction prize that raised more than $1,000, and helped attract people to the annual Santa Cruz Chocolate Festival, a UCSC Women’s Club benefit for re-entry student scholarships, earlier this year.
Then, in February, Gandolfo began what he terms “a pop-up supper club.” Once or twice a month, he hosts “Sunday Supper Sessions” at Center Street Grill with five-course dinners and live music. The next event, March 20, will have 100 $50 tickets available (http://sundaysuppersessions320-autohome.eventbrite.com/); it celebrates the chef’s 40th birthday (March 28) and the beginning of spring.
“Part of my mission is to get people to come in, take some time, slow things down, enjoy food, re-connect with other people,” he says.
That’s what’s driving me in my heart of hearts. I want these Sunday Supper sessions to be a place where people can maybe reflect on the past week, get ready for the following week, and recharge.”
Gandolfo keeps the menu a mystery until guests arrive. The February event was inspired by his chocolate festival appearance; guests received recipes including Chocolate-Pinot Reduction, plus strawberry plant party favors from Gandolfo and his wife Erin’s garden. He is very excited about continuing these community events, as he loves bringing people together through food.
Upcoming Santa Cruz events include cooking for a March 12 SPIN dinner supporting families who have special needs children and a March 27 fundraiser for abused children hosted by Bikers Against Child Abuse.
Gandolfo calls himself a “closet cook” (follow him on Twitter @closetcook) because he admits that when people look at him they probably envision a guy who rides Harleys (he actually used to race motorcycles) and not a guy who is a talented chef. With his strong, large frame, he looks like a construction worker, which was his main job before MasterChef. But as you get to know Gandolfo, you realize that this likeable man was born to be a cook who makes people happy. “I enjoy being a chef because of the thrill of creating amazing food, and the happiness I bring to people with it,” Gandolfo comments. “It also is my artistic expression.”
He grew up in Connecticut, spending the first half of his life on the East Coast. He appreciates the Santa Cruz community and what it has to offer to a chef.
“I think all of the amazing ingredients that are locally sourced make Santa Cruz an awesome place to cook, especially if you are super passionate about food,” he comments. “The variety of fresh fruit and produce and the amazing abundance of the sea are very inspiring.” His influences include Jacques Pepin, Julia Child, and wife Erin and mother Nancy. “My mother inspired me directly by hands-on exposure in the kitchen. Some of my oldest memories are of her and I canning fruits and vegetables together that we grew in our vast garden, while Julia was on PBS on the black and white 13-inch TV. My mom is my No. 1 fan and is very proud.”
His wife sometimes collaborates with him on his culinary adventures.
An obviously very busy man, Gandolfo also runs Custom Culinary Concepts (scculinary.com), a catering and personal chef company that he launched in 2010. Displayed on the site is the quote “Your imagination is your only limitation,” which seems appropriate given Gandolfo’s transformation from construction worker to MasterChef finalist.
“I chose this career because there is no ceiling and the only box is the one you put yourself in,” he notes. “It’s a journey with no destination and that’s what turns me on the most.”Learn more at scculinary.com or 234-4942.
Santa Cruz receives an infusion of the Mediterranean
—with a twist By Tara Fatemi Walker
“I want to help people enjoy the flavors and cultures of Afghanistan and the Silk Road region,” says Wafi Amin, owner of the Santa Cruz restaurant Laili. Amin (pictured) came to California from Afghanistan in 1975 as a student, and worked in restaurants to put himself through school. Years later, he realized that having his own restaurant was his dream. In 1986 he opened a small burrito shop in Albany, which grew into the successful restaurant chain 360 Degrees.
After the events of 9/11, Amin began traveling to Afghanistan frequently and doing charity work, including helping build a circus for kids. “The year before I opened Laili, I was in Afghanistan for eight months and I was inspired,” Amin says. A new dream was born: to bring the cuisine of his native Afghanistan and other Silk Road countries to Santa Cruz. “Afghanistan has a 5,000-year-old culture,” Amin notes. “And the flavors we’re offering are not just Afghani, but from the whole region.” With his restaurant, Amin strives to build awareness that the Middle East is rich with flavors, cultures, and cuisines.
Laili chef Ryan Isaak’s experience includes a degree from San Francisco’s California Culinary Academy and cooking at French restaurant La Mère Michelle in Saratoga. Isaak grew up in California’s Central Valley; both his grandparents were farmers and he was surrounded by an abundance of fresh, affordable produce. “Santa Cruz has been a pioneer of ‘local and sustainable’ for so many years; it’s a big inspiration. Here’s a chance to really do the right thing with food, not just give customers a good experience but give them the food that our bodies and our minds need and that we can feel good about.”
Isaak utilizes ingredients from local farms, including Lonely Mountain Farm potatoes that are perfectly roasted to accompany anar chicken, and sweet, fresh Lonely Farm pumpkin that reveals the tartness of yogurt exquisitely in Pumpkin Boranee.
Laili’s food is suffused with flavors of the Silk Road, starting from the Mediterranean and traveling through Iran, Afghanistan, Central Asia, India, and China. The core of Laili’s dinner menu is based on Amin’s traditional family recipes, which Isaak adapted. The lunch menu is more of a departure from traditions; Isaak borrowed from his own creativity and culinary methods and added influences from Amin. The result is an innovative, delicious blend of dishes that is also very affordable. “Laili is a restaurant for anybody and everybody,” Isaak says. “We don’t want to exclude anyone due to price, and we aim to create a laid-back yet sophisticated environment where people are comfortable dining alone or with friends or family.”
“I love our customers,” Amin adds. “They are a unique face of America and willing to try new flavors and have new experiences.”
Hummus is, of course, a traditional Mediterranean dish. But Laili’s hummus, available at both lunch and dinner, features unusual ingredients including butternut squash. This adds a velvety richness. Similarly, the complimentary dip that customers receive before their meals is a blend of old and new. Tabbouleh is known by many as a traditional salad, but at Laili some of tabbouleh’s traditional ingredients (bulgur, lemon, parsley, garlic) are combined with other ingredients (Parmesan cheese, balsamic vinegar, etc.) to make a tasty and quite addicting dip, which is served with scrumptious flatbread that is made on site. “Ryan is a true artist,” Amin states. “We took a lot of recipes from the Middle East and catered them to the culinary tastes of people here.”
Laili’s dinner entrees, such as popular lamb kebab, are accompanied by rice: either basmati with saffron or kabuli rice, depending on the entrée. Kabuli contains carrots and raisins; again, this is a traditional Central Asian dish that Laili has made its own.
Laili only opened its doors in September 2010, but it has already become a well-loved spot in Santa Cruz’s community. Its welcoming atmosphere is enhanced by certain details. These include Laili’s expansive dining room and patio, a communal table where people can sit with others they don’t know, and an open kitchen where folks can watch chefs prepare their food.
The restaurant’s name, Laili, has its origins in an ancient Middle Eastern love story, and it appears that this incarnation of Laili has made many fall in love with a new cuisine. Santa Cruz has embraced Laili’s spectrum of tastes, many found in intriguing dips and sauces that are light yet full of flavor. “Our ultimate goal,” Isaak says, “is to create a universal experience for our customers, introduce them to new cuisines, and serve good traditional food with a twist.”
Visit Laili at 101B Cooper St., Santa Cruz,
423-4545, lailirestaurant.com. Open for lunch M-F 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., dinner M-Sat 5:30 p.m. – close (M-W usually around 9 p.m., Th-Sat around 10 p.m.)
Legacy of Love
From fish boxes to French toast: The Italian family behind Gilda’s Restaurant By Karen Petersen
Gilda’s is the consummation of four generations of hard work by a loving family, which over the past 132 years has survived an earthquake, depression and two World Wars.
“Cottardo Peter Stagnaro was born in a little fishing village called Riva Trigoso in the northern part of Italy,” says his grandson Robert Stagnaro (pictured).
By the time Cottardo was 13, he sailed on three-masted merchant schooners. When he stopped in Santa Cruz, fish were still caught from the shore. Cottardo built a Mediterranean lanteen sailboat and found the bay held more species of seafood than he had ever encountered. He sold his catch from a fish box from Memorial Day to Labor Day and then sailed to San Francisco to catch crabs.
On one of his nine trips around the Horn he gathered up his wife Maria and 8-year-old son who would become Robert’s father.
“My father always told me when he saw the Statue of Liberty it was the greatest day of his life,” Stagnaro recalls. “My dad went through the public school system and wrote beautiful English and raised us Americanized.”
Robert’s parents married in San Francisco on April 15, 1906. Three days after watching Caruso perform at the opera they lost their home and business to the earthquake. Grandpa sailed to Sausalito to bring the newlyweds to Santa Cruz and offered his son a partnership. His younger son Malio would join later.
Santa Cruz boasted a commercial fishing fleet with 100 fishermen but no harbor. Fifty boats were hoisted at once onto the pier by davits. Everyone helped each other unload.
During the Depression, the Stagnaros ventured into sport fishing and speed boats. With bank loans unattainable, Grandpa financed the expansion, demonstrating that the family must sacrifice for the business.
“In 1935 my dad and Uncle Malio built a water taxi that provided a service that no one ever had in sport fishing,” Robert says.
The taxi ferried customers to the fishing boat. In all of these years, there have been no injuries in the sport fishing business, which still runs today.
Robert Stagnaro, the youngest of 13 children, was born three months early in 1928, weighing just one-and-a-half pounds.
“The nurse held me in her hand when she showed me to my wonderful father,” he says. “She said to my dad ‘look at that big boy’, and that’s how I got the nickname Big Boy.” In time, the kids learned the business from the time they were 6 or 7. Raised to believe America came first, they volunteered to serve in World War II.
“A day I would never forget in my lifetime, I was not quite 14 years old,” Stagnaro recalls, “and I saw 200 boys all volunteer with the Navy. They all saw action, and some were hurt, but they all got to come back.
“I used to get up at four in the morning to help dad get his fishing boats out,” he notes. “I’d shower and he would take me to school. I did that all through the war.”
Stagnaro says his parents and grandparents gave him so much love, as did Uncle Malio. “He was a little tougher,” he adds, “but you know what, we needed that to keep us on the straight line.”
In 1936 the family opened the first restaurant on the wharf, serving shrimp cocktails, clam chowder, Louies and steamed clams.
When Robert joined the Navy during the Korean War Gilda joined the business. In 1964 they opened Malio’s which was known as one of the finest seafood restaurants on the Pacific Coast.
The 1980s were saddened by the passing of numerous siblings. With each loss, the business would be appraised and the heirs’ share cashed out. Although fair, it strained the business. Robert and Gilda prevailed working side-by-side 12 to 14 hours a day. In 1988 Stagnaro lost the love of his life, Joan, after 36 years of marriage.
Now, his sons Dino and Malio run the corporation while their father handles public relations. He comes in for breakfast and stays to talk to customers. “And I want to say this about our Santa Cruzans,” he muses. “Without the help that they gave to the Italian community, and the love they had for us, this could never have been accomplished here on the waterfront.”
Gilda’s, Center of Municipal Wharf, Santa Cruz, 423-2010. Full bar. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. Visit gildas-restaurant.com.
Behold: Pelican Ranch By Josie Cowden
Pelican Ranch Winery has vacated its spot on the Westside of Santa Cruz in the Surf City Vintners enclave, and opened up a facility in a new building in Capitola. It wasn’t an easy decision for winery owners Phil and Peggy Crews to move, but they simply needed a bigger tasting room, more production space and, perhaps, a whole new customer base in Mid County.
“It also gives us marketing opportunities with B & B’s in Mid County and Monterey,” adds Peggy Crews. “And one of the things that we’re playing up is that we are Capitola’s first winery. They’ve had tasting rooms, but they’ve never had a winery.”
Peggy says that production of wine at Pelican Ranch is not changing. “We’re only around 1,000 cases so were still very small and intimate. Of the 1,000 cases we produce, we have 20 different wines, so sometimes it’s only a barrel’s worth of wine we produce of one particular wine,” she says. “The tasting room on Swift Street was tucked into the production room, but our new place has a separate tasting room from the production area. This means that Phil won’t have to drive a forklift through the tasting room during tasting hours,” she laughs.
Phil and Peggy plan on putting together a whole series of wine seminars and special tastings, capitalizing on Phil’s scientific background – he’s a professor of chemistry at UC Santa Cruz.
“There’s plenty of parking and plenty of space in the new quarters,” says Peggy. A series of grand opening events are planned in March and April which will be updated on their website. Meantime, they are excited about the future of Pelican Ranch and being in a new building. “Its five units are zoned for the food industry and other businesses,” says Peggy. “A small brewery [Sante Adairius] is going in next door, and maybe a bakery.”
Of all the wonderful wines made by Pelican Ranch—from a robust Pinot Noir to a rich and fruity Chardonnay—they are particularly proud of the 2008 Pinotage—made with grapes from the splendid vineyards of Lodi. “This is a South African varietal and the vineyard this comes from is the second largest planting of Pinotage in the entire state,” says Peggy. “It’s seven acres of this little-known grape in California.” Phil and Peggy Crews invite you over to try some.
Pelican Ranch Winery, 102 Kennedy Drive, Capitola, 462-6911. pelicanranch.com.
Sitting high on a ridge off Watsonville Road in Gilroy, Martin Ranch Winery offers the visitor not only impressive wines, but also a breathtaking view in a bucolic setting.
Proprietors Dan and Thérèse Martin are justly proud of their winery and their accomplishments. Since forming the business about 10 years ago, the Martins have garnered enormous recognition and a plethora of awards. In the 2010 Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Commercial Wine Competition, the Martins won two double gold medals for their Sangiovese and Malbec; a gold for their Bordeaux Style Blend; Syrah; and Cabernet Sauvignon—as well as silver and bronze medals for other wines. Their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon was named as one of 2010’s top Cabs by Wine & Spirits magazine in the December 2010 issue.
Although Martin Ranch is not huge, it produces a goodly amount of wine—about 4,000 cases a year—and, be the winery large or small, it’s inevitable that past vintages can tend to pile up. This is where Costco came in. “They sold $2,000 worth of wine in a weekend,” says Thérèse, “and it gave us some good advertising. It allowed us to get to a demographic that doesn’t always come out to the winery.”
Winemaker Dan Martin is constantly making improvements to the winery. An area off the crush pad has recently been turned into a picnic area with 18 new tables, and new outdoor furniture has been added as well. Extra space is always needed. At a recent “Bottle Your Own” event, the Martins had 750 people over a two-day period. “It was the biggest, most successful event we’ve done to date,” Thérèse says.
The Martins open their winery to the public only once a month. “The most important factor is being able to talk to everybody who comes here,” Thérèse says.
She also wants to begin promoting the area’s local wines—there are more than 70 wineries in the Santa Cruz Mountains. “I don’t know why there aren’t more local wines in local establishments,” she notes. “We want all our wineries to be represented—it’s a community. It’s about the Santa Cruz Mountains being represented.”
Martin Ranch Winery, 6675 Redwood Retreat Road, Gilroy. Tel: (408) 842-9197. martinranchwinery.com. Open the third weekend of each month Saturday and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m., and for the Passport program.
Very Nice, Very Vinocruz By Josie Cowden
When J-P Correa and Jeffrey Kongslie-Correa opened their wine store, they decided to specialize in wines made in the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation. With around 70 different wineries to choose from, Vinocruz is always filled to the rafters with an eclectic variety. Whatever kind of local wine you’re looking for—be it a potent Pinot, a sexy Syrah or a voluptuous Viognier, J-P will help you to find just the right one.
Vinocruz arranges tastings every weekend with wines in all price ranges, and this is a good opportunity to meet the winemakers, too. Usually, there is a tasting fee for these events, but this can be applied to a wine purchase.
A very special tasting of Kathryn Kennedy wines is scheduled for Saturday showcasing the exceptional wines of this winery. Kennedy’s son, winemaker Marty Mathis, is releasing the 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, and he believes it’s the best wine he’s ever made. “This is perhaps the very best balanced and most excellent Cabernet of my life,” says Mathis. It sells for $225 a bottle. Also from Kathryn Kennedy Winery is a very exciting new wine called Contra La Marea (Against the Tide), a splendid blend of Portuguese varietals made with all estate-grown fruit ($85).
Vinocruz is always a fun place to go. And back by popular demand are Wine Down Fridays, when a selection of wines by the glass are offered for $5 from 5-6:30 p.m.
As J-P says, “This is great way to end the week—with a glass of wine with friends.”
Vinocruz, 725 Front St., Santa Cruz, 426-8466, vinocruz.com. The special wine tasting event with Kathryn Kennedy Winery is on Saturday, March 12 from 3-5 p.m.
Saturday, March 19 is a big day for Lance Campbell, owner and winemaker at Copious Winery. Campbell and his wife Brandie will be celebrating the first anniversary of Copious, and the success of their new venture.
Campbell knows his onions when it comes to winemaking. He has garnered more than 300 awards during his years in the business, honing his skills at his previously owned winery in the Sierra foothills, and continues to get recognition for his excellent wines. His 2009 Pinot Noir, California, a blend of two vineyards, won Best of Class in the prestigious 2011 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition; and two of Campbell’s other Pinots won gold and silver awards in the same competition. As well as Pinot Noir, Copious also produces excellent Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
“We’ve had a great year,” says Campbell. “I’ve received a couple of double golds before, but the San Francisco Chronicle is up there and has a lot of perks. The wine club’s doing very well, and we have a loyal following of customers who love our wine. We put on special events for the wine club members, and they even have their own hot tub,” he laughs, referring to a special hot tub room built for wine club members and incorporated into the winery’s spacious tasting room. “It’s just fun, you know,” Campbell adds, obviously enjoying his work to the full.
At special events, Brandie and Lance Campbell love to showcase their wines and provide interesting fare for their customers. For their first anniversary, they plan on a combination of eclectic bites to eat, including some fine cheeses. “Then we’ll sneak in a few specialty items and be creative at the last minute,” Lance adds. Many more events are planned for the future, including a cigar and wine pairing on April 2 featuring Havana Village of Capitola.
For the first Crawfish Boil at the end of March, Campbell has to check on the supply of these tasty crustaceans. “I’ve got to make sure that there are crawfish out there,” he says, “and find out when the season is. Hopefully, we’ll get our new wines bottled and have a party.”
Although serious about their wines, the Campbells generally like to have a good time. “We have a generous staff, we’re not pretentious, and we like to enjoy the company of people,” says Lance. “We like to have fun.”
The Campbells also support local artists. “We have nice artwork on the walls right now,” Lance says of their fine display in the tasting room. “It offers another layer of something to experience when you come to our winery,” he adds.
Although Copious is open only at weekends, they’re also available for appointments. “People can call me and I’m happy to go down there and pour,” says Campbell.
When asked why he chose the name Copious for his winery, Campbell cited several reasons. “It means generous, abundant, plentiful – it’s a nice adjective. I just kind of like the way it sounds,” he says. “It embodies our spirit.”
Copious Winery, 427 Swift St., Santa Cruz, 423-9463. copiouswinery.com. Open Friday through Sun from noon to 6 p.m.
11 Dishes or Meals That Will Blow You Away By Tara Fatemi Walker
11 Hamachi Sashimi and Hamachi Kama at Shogun.
Once you take a bite of Shogun’s hamachi sashimi and realize how tender and fresh it is, you’ll be excited by the large portion of this sashimi order (seven pieces, each one nicely sized). Shogun’s Hamachi Kama, otherwise known as broiled yellowtail cheekbone, is also very satisfying—don’t let the “cheekbone” term intimidate you. The fish is moist and meaty, with a sweet tasty sauce. Kama is on Shogun’s appetizer list but the generous portion can easily be an entrée or split among several as a starter.
1123 Pacific Ave, Santa Cruz, 469-4477, menustation.com/ shogun/ menu.html.
10 Entrees during Mole Week at Tortilla Flats
Twice a year, chef/owner Cheryl Marquez offers special mole dishes for a week. She creates a dozen varieties, and three or four available each evening. Two of the best from last December’s event: Mole Manchemanteles, a rich, intoxicating combination of chiles and fruits and just the right partner for pork carnitas, and Mole Onza Rojo with a spicy sauce featuring rare chiles from Southern Mexico plus tender, large prawns. Note: even though these rare moles only occur twice yearly, you can get traditional chicken mole enchiladas year-round at Tortilla Flats.
4616 Soquel Drive, Soquel, 476-1754, tortillaflatsdining.com.
9 Tom Kha Soup with Tofu at Sawasdee This soup will leave both Thai food aficionados and novices awestruck. The coconut milk’s subtle sweetness juxtaposes nicely with tangy herbs, tofu, and fresh vegetables including tomatoes and mushrooms. It’s a hearty dish, yet also light and refreshing, and a wonderful way to start your meal (or order a whole pot just for yourself and make it an entrée).
5050 Soquel Drive, Soquel, 462-5051, sawasdeesoquel.com.
8 Crab Cake at Ma Maison These tasty treats have won awards at the Santa Cruz Wine and Crab Taste-Off. The cake has an exquisite crispness on the outer layer, while the inside is moist, flaky, wonderfully fresh Dungeness crab combined with delectable ingredients like crème fraiche and shallots. At dinnertime, the crab cake is served with a creamy, tangy celery remoulade (think coleslaw gone upscale and a hundred times better) that provides good contrast. The remoulade is made from Coke Farm celery root. You can also get crab cakes at lunchtime when they’re served as part of the California Crab Cake Salad (Tues-Fri only).
9051 Soquel Drive, Aptos, 688-5566, mamaisonrestaurant.com.
7 Lamb dishes at India Joze Chef Jozseph Schultz is a skillful lamb cook; order anything with lamb from his menu and you will be happy. The lamb always tastes incredibly fresh, and you can tell that Schultz has marinated his lamb for hours. The meat is cooked through, but never dry, and filled with the aromas and flavors of that dish’s particular seasonings. Lamb dishes appearing on the regular menu include Lamb Kaliya (hormone-free lamb tenderloin and vegetables wok’d in a yogurt reduction) and Lamajoon Lamb (flatbread pizza with spicy lamb topping). A recent special: Persian Lamb (hormone-free lamb tenderloin wok’d with pomegranate cream reduction).
418 Front St., Santa Cruz, 325-3633, indiajoze.com.
6 Chicken and Waffle at Clubhouse Kitchen Want comfort food that will thrill you? Try the Chicken & Waffle at Clubhouse Kitchen, a down-home cash-only eatery that opened in September. Available daily from opening until closing, this entrée features a generous piece of fried Mary’s free-range chicken (your choice of light or dark meat) plus a Belgian waffle. The chicken is fried to order, with a crispy-yet-light coating, and the meat is tender and moist. The waffle is dense, delicious, and cinnamon-infused, served with raw sugar honey butter made on-premises. The butter is so sweet and good you can even go without syrup. (I know, I know, that’s a crazy idea …).
415 Seabright Ave., Santa Cruz, 425-CLUB facebook.com/pages/ ClubHouseKitchen/108336445897837.
5 Wednesday Prix Fixe at Oswald In 2010 Oswald began offering three-course $29 prix fixe dinners on Wednesday evenings. Each week there are three options for each course—appetizer, entrée and dessert. On a recent Wednesday I created a double-tart feast: a savory wild mushroom tart appetizer (ingredients included onion plus decadent chanterelles and black trumpets). The pear tart dessert with vanilla bean-specked ice cream is sublime. The cauliflower gratin is a beautiful golden color, great texture, a creamy cheesy sauce, and a side of rutabaga, parsnip, celery root, and carrots. Roasting brought out the root vegetables’ natural sweetness.
121 Soquel Avenue, Santa Cruz, 423-7427, oswaldrestaurant.com.
4 Pork Entrees at Main Street Garden & Cafe The menu changes daily, so different pork entrées appear on the menu. Chef Brad Briske is a meat master; one piece of pork paradise is Devil’s Gulch Pork Shoulder with Route 1 Farms English peas, Live Earth Farm peppers, house-cured pork jowl, and Lindencroft Farms frisee. Another: braised pork shoulder with house-made pork sausage, potatoes, and aioli. Briske brines his meats, and this process, which can take up to three days, makes the meat especially tender.
3101 N. Main Street, Soquel, 477-9265, mainstreetgardencafe.com.
3 Ravioli at Ristorante Avanti. It doesn’t matter what season it is, if you order ravioli at Avanti you will be blown away by the flavors and the presentation: handmade pasta, fresh produce, and perfectly matched herbs, all combined by the deft hands of chef Ben Sims. Winter brings butternut squash ravioli garnished with toasted hazelnuts and sage brown butter. Other ravioli varieties include beet with walnuts and greens (the colors on the plate are gorgeous), and wild nettle with black trumpet butter.
1711 Mission Street, Santa Cruz, 427-0135, ristoranteavanti.com.
2 Small plates at Soif It’s fun to order many small plates at Soif and these menu selections are always first-rate. Don’t miss lamb meatballs with almond sauce, a menu mainstay. In each order, three plump tender meatballs are served atop a roasted almond puree, and they are indescribably good. Another small plate is sautéed cauliflower, always beautifully caramelized, with garlic, shallots and curry oil. This one’s not on the menu all the time, but when it is it makes a good complement to the rich meatball dish.
105 Walnut Ave, Santa Cruz, 423-2020, soifwine.com.
1 Chicken Curry at Jia Tella’s Don’t miss the heavenly chicken curry at this excellent Cambodian restaurant. The thick coconut-milk-based stew contains a huge amount of melt-in-your-mouth meat plus big chunks of potato and carrot. Seasonings make the sauce mildly spicy, but there is also sweetness with a resulting great balance of flavors. Sides are available for separate purchase; choose jasmine or brown rice to accompany your curry.
18 Victor Square, Scotts Valley, 438-5005, jiatellas.com.