.Local Wines, Gorgeous Appetizers Make Winning Combo at VinoCruz

Every day brings an expanding open house to Santa Cruz area restaurants, wine bars, cafes, and taquerias. Last week, the weather added to the mix, and my friend Melody and I just had to meet up. The small patio tucked into the front of Soquel’s mighty VinoCruz wine bar-with-benefits was talking to us. 

“Isn’t this just the best?” Melody asked without needing any answer. One look at the menu confirmed her hunch that VinoCruz has a winning formula. A long list of local wines—always the main draw here—is now substantially filled in with gorgeous appetizers, the kind you can easily turn into a dinner. 

The wines had to be red, we agreed, as the sun began setting over my right shoulder. I chose one of my old friends, Bonny Doon Vineyard’s Le Cigare Volant 2018 ($10) which balances Grenache, Cinsault, and Syrah into a classic, refreshing version of the blend that won the Rhône. Melody wandered farther afield, with a Carli Vinattiere blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet and Merlot from Santa Clara Valley. She loved its fruit-forward jamminess, the sort of playful flavors that work perfectly with a menu long on playful appetizers and charcuterie. 

Game for the unusual, I ordered one of VinoCruz’s signatures, the cumin-scented bison meatballs ($14), a skewer of three large meatballs, glazed with habañero-spiked apricot puree, and interspersed with fresh pickled cucumbers and ribbons of pink onion. The meatballs lay on a pool of wonderful coriander-scented yogurt. This is a dish I would drive to Soquel for even during rush hour! 

The VinoCruz charcuterie board ($17) did not disappoint. Again, major eye candy, with this tribute to a variety of thinly sliced cured meats, including addictive wild boar salami, speck and another Genovese salami, along with crunchy rosemary beer whole-grain mustard, olives, slices of yellow and red baby peppers, plus thin crostini. So much to enjoy, and everything even better between sips of our red wines, wines that opened nicely in the warm evening air. 

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Our third shared platter was one of the half dozen sourdough flatbreads that have earned a place in our pantheon of must-have wine partners. Warm and fragrant from the oven, sliced into four generous slabs was chewy flatbread covered with pesto and Laura Chenel goat cheese. More toppings included pickled artichokes and Kalamata olives. Arugula, yes, why not? Such good looking, terrific-tasting foods. 

Meeting up with one of my dearest travel partners—both of us vax’d up and so happy to dine face-to-face—sitting a mere one block away from the little white church where my parents were married. Our little wine dinner at VinoCruz celebrated many things, not the least of which was the ability to dine out again! Open daily for patio dining, takeout, and delivery.

VinoCruz, 4901 Soquel Drive, Soquel. 831-426-8466, vinocruz.com.   

Such a Deal at India Joze

With only two woks in the kitchen, Chef Jozseph Schultz has to clone himself to whip up four different wok dishes for your to-go order. Light bulb moment! India Joze is offering a three-for-one special: Order three of the same item, and he’ll cook you a very big take-home box at a $6 discount. Give it a try, and happy Persian New Year. 

India Joze is open Wednesday-Saturday, 5-8pm, for takeout and outdoor or indoor dining. Good news for fans of some of the most brilliant cooking in town. Order at indiajoze.com/order/eat and prepare to be blown away. 

Twigs is coming soon to downtown Santa Cruz. PHOTO: TARMO HANNULA

Twig’s Taphouse is about to open up in the heart of downtown Santa Cruz at 110 Walnut Ave., an address you might recall from the former 99 Bottles. Stay thirsty, my friends!


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