It was called Wishful Thinking, the deep golden cocktail devised with alchemical flair by Zane Griffin, the man behind the bar at Assembly. Amontillado sherry, dry vermouth, plus a few exciting details, such as Ancho Reyes (chili liqueur), orange bitters, and mezcal. How could these ingredients combine into something so mellow and memorable? Dunno. But they did. Full disclosure: I am not a fan of sherry nor of vermouth, yet this cocktail was utterly convincing. The warming tones of the mezcal and chili gave sex appeal to the main ingredients. The hint of bitters added punch to the submissive flavor notes of the sherry and vermouth. While I pondered the backstory of the cocktail’s name, my companion Anya went for a glass of Nebbiolo Rosé from Ser Winery—crisp with hints of tannins and berries.
Griffin, the restaurant’s beverage director and his sous-mixologist graciously provided some annotated answers to our questions about Assembly’s bar menu. It is mesmerizing watching the pouring and mixing. Why not simply have dinner right there at the bar? No reason not to.
I ordered the braised chicken leg from 38 North Poultry, which arrived bronzed into confit status, and surrounded by what amounted to an enlightened cassoulet of cannellini beans with caramelized leeks, Route 1 kale, earthy chorizo, and herbed bread crumbs all over the whole thing ($25). The crunch of tasty breadcrumbs and chopped kale was a texture ally with the succulent poultry and soft, addictive beans. Autumn in every bite, this spectacular dish was romanced nicely by the unusual cocktail Griffin had created. And Assembly chef Jessica Yarr has a way with robust ingredients.
My companion’s New York strip steak ($29) was an equally gorgeous entrée, served—like my substantial chicken leg—in a deep, wide bowl. The slices of rare beef were sided by a braise of baby spinach, caramelized red onion, and pancetta, and a purée of kabocha squash. The bottom of the plate shimmered with a balsamic and red grape pan sauce. And to think that I usually stick to the burgers at Assembly. As we ate we watched the mixologists whipping up stunning house cocktails—the Tennyson West was particularly intriguing with Venus gin, wild elderflower liqueur, chartreuse, and extract of roses. The house also runs a full dance card of classic and contemporary cocktails to please those who crave Negronis, daiquiris, margaritas, and mojitos. Yes, I know. The burgers!
Stagnaro Bros. Celebrates 80!
As a kid I remember sitting at the end of the wharf watching the seals and sea gulls, and swilling those crab louies and clam chowder with little oyster crackers. Stagnaro Bros. was the place to have a special meal of fresh fish amid the colorful waterfront vibes. Well not only the nautical vibes but the actual prices from long ago will be in place on Nov. 29, as the coastal landmark celebrates its 80th birthday by “rolling back prices with a set menu of favorite items from the original opening of the restaurant, all day long,” says co-owner Rob McPherson, who, along with his siblings, helps to run both the restaurant and the wholesale fish market. McPherson promises that his 99-year-old grandmother and 93-year-old aunt will both be there next week to greet their many fans and admirers. Join them! (Yes, there are various other wonderful places in Santa Cruz with the name “Stagnaro” on them—after all, our region was graced by the presence of more than one member of the immigrant Italian food, market, and fishing dynasty starting more than 100 years ago. Celebrating its 80th is Stagnaro’s at the end of the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf. Open daily 11 a.m.-9 p.m.)