Lillian's
Dining Reviews

Hearty Entrees Shine at Lillian’s Italian Kitchen

Plus a post-Thanksgiving wine pairing dinner at Persephone.

PHOTO: JULES HOLDSWORTH

Entrees were the stars at our recent dinner at Lillian’s Italian Kitchen.

Along with glasses of rich Eberle Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($12) and an excellent Bonny Doon Vineyard Cigare Volant 2012 ($13), we shared a salad of roasted beets, arugula and candied walnuts tossed in a vinaigrette with gorgonzola ($12). Sweeter than most antipasti salads, it made us wish we’d ordered the Caesar. My robust penne Margherita ($14) came tossed with marinara, fresh basil, gooey mozzarella and an addition of fat grilled Tiger prawns ($9). This was an absolutely fulfilling and generous bowl of pasta.

My companion’s entree of pan roasted salmon arrived on a bed of smashed potatoes ($27). The wedge of beautifully cooked salmon filet was joined by plump asparagus spears, everything strewn with diced fresh tomatoes and sauced with lemon and capers. Both entrees showed off the kitchen’s sure hand with Italian-American classics, and a take-no-prisoners devotion to garlic. The dessert of cannoli ($5.50) studded with chocolate chips was unlike the cannoli made by my companion’s grandmother. But then, what isn’t? The glass of Bele Casel Prosecco ($10), however, was fine.

Lillian’s Italian Kitchen. 1148 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. Open from 4 p.m; closed Monday. lilliansitaliankitchen.com.

Well Wok’d Music Party

Celebrating the 40th anniversary of both New Music Works and the Santa Cruz Chamber Players last week, world cuisine master Jozseph Schultz outdid himself with a gorgeous spread of dish after delicious dish for the sit-down dinner crowd of arts glitterati.

From pappadams and salmon flatbread, through feta Greek salad and Spanish marinated mushrooms, the 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 Brussels sprouts, chicken with walnut garlic sauce, quince chutney, amazing eggs with sumac and Egyptian dukkah spices, and a fiery fennel and tomato salad. Hibiscus cooler, chai, champagne, and a massive cake finished off the meal.

While we feasted, we were treated to memorable live music. Standouts included beautiful work from the Malans, harpist Jennifer Cass’ gossamer playing of Jon Scoville, as well as Lou Harrison’s Jahla with Phil Collins on percussion, and Stan Poplin’s smokin’ double bass walk through avant garde jazz by Joe Zawinul.

Libation of the Week

The delicate quince chamomile shrub ($5) at Ristorante Avanti. Vibrant and refreshing, this pungent infusion of vinegar-based botanical syrup in soda made a perfect partner for fresh local halibut and an addictive saute of winter veggies. Plus a creamy fresh pea risotto ($23). Alas, this will be one of my last lunches at the original Avanti. Ciao to Paul and Cindy Geise, and welcome to new chef/owners Jonathan and Tatiana Glass.

Tidbits

Hula’s Island Grill and Tiki Room at 221 Cathcart St. in Santa Cruz, takes you to the Islands this holiday season with an enticing gift certificate deal. You need only purchase a $50 gift certificate and you’ll also get a $10 certificate for yourself! Purchase $100 and you get an additional $20 gift card to treat yourself! Truly a win-win. Offer good until Dec. 24. Meanwhile, Soif Wine Shop at 105 Walnut Ave. in downtown Santa Cruz will deliver wine orders of $300 (or more) within Santa Cruz County now through the end of the year. Such a deal.

Post-Turkey Wine Dinner

In Aptos, Persephone restaurant welcomes Sante Arcangeli winemaker John Benedetti at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 29 for a five-course meal ($135 non-inclusive) that begins with puntarelle salad with prosciutto and duck egg, and ends with dessert of rose meringue, pomegranate and pistachio. Each course paired with a special Sante Arcangeli wine. Almost sold out! Reservations at 831-612-6511 or email [email protected]

Christina Waters was born in Santa Cruz and raised all over the world (thanks to an Air Force dad), with real-world training in painting, music, winetasting, trail running, organic gardening, and teaching. She has a PhD in Philosophy, teaches in the Arts at UCSC and sings with the UCSC Concert Choir. Look for her recent memoir “Inside the Flame” at bookstores everywhere.

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