Every now and then, even in a top restaurant, a single dish stands out. Seriously stands out. The restaurant is La Posta, the dish was a plate of gnocchi. Chef Katherine Stern keeps an eye on the seasons, noting the exact moment that this or that latest harvest is particularly ripe. Tomatoes are having their moment just about now, which is why a handful of those tiny sweet orange cherry tomatoes adorned the plate of gnocchi Angie and I shared last week.
Let me back up a bit and set the table. I opted for a quartino of the excellent house Montepulciano, and Angie went rogue with a glass of opulent Sicilian “pink” wine the color of liquid rubies. From I Custodi “Alnuis” came this Etna Rosato 2015 that tasted like salted plums ($8). Addictive. Next, our two opening dishes.
Late summer honeydew melon layered with lavish maroon leaves of bitter Treviso radicchio looked like a Frank Gehry miniature. A tangle of shaved fennel topped this salad, with added sex appeal coming from flecks of Calabrian chili and shreds of fresh mint ($10). The bitter leaves playing off the ripe sweet melon, all kicked up a bit by the chilis and mint—late summer inspiration in every bite.
Another starter of house-cured king salmon arrived on a slick of fermented chilis and cilantro ($12). All by itself, it was a sensuous combination of flavors—with the surprising visual of both underlying sauce and the salmon itself being the exact same shade of vermillion. My favorite part was the topping of fresh purslane, one of my favorite herbs, with its cushiony, crunchy mouthfeel. Green against orange.
For my entree I chose the evening’s special pasta—a dish of plump gnocchi that had been sauced with shreds of slow-cooked pork and those little orange tomatoes ($20). The pork and pomodori formed a sauce synergy that bathed each pasta. The star of the entire dinner, these gnocchi were full-bodied and comforting. The sauce was rich enough to act like a main course, yet subtle enough to flatter without overwhelming the pasta.
Another entree of plump fresh Petrale sole arrived in a delicate broth, with spinach, branches of roasted fennel and zest of lemon ($28). It was deeply satisfying and redolent of late summer. Throughout this terrific meal I realized that this is what the advertising cliché “market-driven menu” really means. I need to build a wormhole between the West Side and Seabright so I can dine here more often. La Posta, open Tuesday-Sunday from 5 p.m. 538 Seabright Ave., Santa Cruz. 457-2782.
Open Hearth at Food Lounge
For 10 years Beth Freewomon’s innovative approach to cooking—The Open Hearth— has won her a following among inquiring diners looking for improved health along with flawless ingredients and intriguing flavors. A firm believer in the power of food as medicine, entrepreneur Freewomon has developed a long list of clients who subscribe to The Open Hearth’s customized packages of nutritionally-inflected meals. “My clients are busy professionals or families who want organic food that supports a heart-healthy, anti-inflammatory lifestyle,” says Freewomon, who created such outside-the-box items as Tempeh Reuben Entrée Salad, and Smoky Mac and Cheez with a Café Gratitude-inspired nut and seed Parmesan garnish. From 5-9 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 3, newcomers to Freewomon’s tasty philosophy can celebrate her 10-year milestone with a free “healthy food sampling,” a no-host bar with freshly prepared mixers from The Open Hearth, and acoustic music. At the Food Lounge, 1001 Center St., Ste. 1, in downtown Santa Cruz. Delicious fun that might change the way you take charge of your health. Find out more at iamtheopenhearth.com.