For the past 35 years, I’ve eaten every meal with a pen in my hand—and more recently, a cell phone—all for a weekly food column. Some weeks I’ve got lots of material; a new restaurant, an exciting dish, a wine tasting, the latest farmers market harvest. Other weeks I’ve got nothing! But I still have a column to write. The stress! The panic! The last-minute anxiety! You get the idea. Some weeks I’m inspired, and the words roll off my fingertips, into my keyboard and onto the page or screen. Other weeks, not so much. You have no idea how often I’ve had to wrack my brain about a new favorite food, or some must-have pantry item. Or what I bought the week before and loved from Shoppers. I have had to spin straw into gold more times than Elon Musk has changed his mind. But no more!
Here’s the deal: as of Jan. 1, I’m stepping away from writing a weekly column about food, wine and restaurants. Oh, I’ll still do restaurant reviews. Once a month—at least. But not the relentless weekly pace of foraging for food-column material.
This is a good thing. The change will let me increase my arts criticism and theater reviewing. Plays, performances, music festivals, playwright interviews, book reviews, poetry reviews and probably more. I can now expand my arts writing free from the insistent pace of the weekly column.
Right about now, I bet you’re wondering: just how did Christina get into the food-writing racket anyway? It’s not like there’s a degree or an app for that.
Here I was in Santa Cruz, fresh from grad school and San Francisco, and I found myself hanging out with some loose cannons in alternative journalism; i.e., folks who enjoyed being smartasses in print and barely getting paid for it. Over a glass of wine, the discussion turned to restaurants. “Who wants to try to review this new place?” an editor asked. My hand went up. Why not? I’d grown up in France and Germany, spent time in Manhattan and Washington DC as an undergraduate. I knew a caper from a wild weekend. Why not give it a try?
My initial results were decent enough that I got the gig at a series of alternative weeklies leading to the Metro-owned newspapers I’ve been involved with for three decades. And was nominated for three James Beard Journalism Awards in the process.
Before the past two recessions, before the pandemic, even before the Big Earthquake, Santa Cruz was a hotbed of culinary adventure. More specifically (and for readers too young to remember the Time Before the Internet), the ’80s were a time of dining as entertainment. Everyone went out to eat all the time. Food wasn’t viciously expensive, it was inventive. The wineries that have now become global players were just starting out. Premium Santa Cruz Mountain wines and our innovative bistros grew up together. Food entrepreneurs grew on trees.
A chef named Ray Pinochi gave nouvelle cuisine a good name. El Palomar brought authentic regional Mexican cuisine into the heart of downtown Santa Cruz. L’Oustalou crafted countryside French dishes. The Salmon Poacher and Theo’s offered upmarket California-French menus that rivaled anything in San Francisco. Suzanne’s by the Sea made alfalfa sprouts a go-to topping on sophisticated salads, just as the Whole Earth Cafe made sunflower seeds de rigueur on every damn dish. Seychelles was a revelation of Middle Eastern-inspired flavors, and the then-new O’mei fused Asian authenticity with California ingredients, with a local wine list to boot. Gabriella Cafe had a young turk named Jim Denevan sourcing directly from local markets and suddenly Alice Waters’ farm to table concept was everywhere.
It was the Golden Age of the original India Joze, a restaurant so ungodly great that patrons and reviewers alike came from all over the country to bask in whatever Joe Schultz wanted to whip up, especially during the outrageous Calamari Festival.
You’re probably getting the picture as to just how spoiled we were in this small seaside town. UCSC’s well-traveled academics wanted challenging menus, and they got ’em. Pearl Alley Bistro, Chez Renee, Oswald, Malabar, Cafe Sparrow, Chef Tong’s, China Szechuan. Before there was Soif and La Posta, there was Deer Park Tavern, the Santa Cruz Hotel and Castagnolas—where delicious, if not exactly authentic Italianate cuisine ruled. Sushi in every pot, thanks to Suki and MoBo. On the Westside, there was Avanti and Sukeroku, two restaurants that fed many of us on a weekly basis before Bantam, Vim and Sushi Totoro sprung up.
The glories of Gayle’s and Kelly’s made sure Santa Cruzans had breads and pastries to rival those of Paris. Then the coffeehouse boom erupted—grateful thanks to the discerning nerds of Verve and Lulu’s and Iveta.
Each of these new ventures called out to be explored, and written about. There was, incredibly enough, more than enough here to fill my weekly columns. Every week. Every year. And every time I had saved the money, I’d get on a plane and dine in NYC, or Paris or Florence and refresh my tastebuds. Expand my dining consciousness. What always kept it fresh was that no matter what Michelin-starred place I visited, when I got back home I found that Santa Cruz entrepreneurs maintained high standards. It was enough to always keep me interested in what I would find next. Thanks to the gastro-explorers who rode point—Lou Caviglia, Patrice Boyle, Sean Venus, Randall Grahm, Santos Majano, Manthri Sinath, Gayle Ortiz, Fran Grayson, John Locke, Todd Parker, Charlie Deal, Erin Lampel, David Kinch, Jozseph Schultz, Germaine Akin and so many others—it’s been incredible and delicious fun (as well as all that stuff I said about being stressful).
Next week, I’ll give you my top meals of 2022, and then begin a New Year of monthly restaurant reviews, arts criticism, and theater reviews that don’t give away the plot.
Thanks to all for joining me on these weekly food escapades. Salut!
Thank you, Christina, for all these years of gastro-writing supreme! And I look forward to all you gift us lucky readers with in the years to come!
Love seeing the names of the old restaurants in SC
Suzanne’s by the sea a favorite, and a flash from the past, L’ Oustalou. Thanks for the memories, Christina. Good luck on you new journalistic endeavors. How about a Capricorn lunch in January for old times sake? Xxoo
Thank you for all you’ve done for Santa Cruz County’s food and drink culture over the past 35 years, and for this wonderful retrospective. I look forward to continuing to read your writing and wish you all the best during this transition. Cheers!
OMG. Well, that was certainly a delicious look back at dining in what used to be our little burg. The memory of sipping hibiscus coolers on a Friday afternoon at Joze brought tears to my eyes. And then it occurred to me that I won’t be hip about (or get to imbibe as one of your sidekicks) the latest food venture. It’s been absolutely scrumptious, dear. We will miss your exquisite details about food. And so relieved to hear we will at least be tempted monthly. Thanks for being you.
do u remember right livelyhood pizza ?????????????//yummmmmmmmmmmm