Dining Reviews

Thirstysomething

dn soifSoif celebrates its birthday with a new twist, Sean Venus releases blue agave spirit, and summer wines

Happy birthday Soif! Can it really be 12 years since Patrice Boyle and her cohorts hatched the plan to open a wine bar in the former Woolworth’s on Walnut Avenue? And would a place named for the barely pronounceable French word for “thirst” really catch on? Is the pope South American?

Long months driving through Italy—sipping her way through the odd Verdicchio, Falanghina, and Frappato—are what convinced Boyle, the former Bonny Doon Vineyard general manager, that alternative and unusual wines would be quite at home in Santa Cruz. In other words, the world of wines outside the boxes marked “Cabernet” and “Chardonnay.” She was right, and the rest is history.

Last week marked the official 12 year mark since that thirst-quenching opening day, but during the entire month of August those crafty Soifettes are featuring a variety of 2002 vintage wines (do the math) to taste, sip and purchase in the wine shop. Which brings me to yet another only-at-Soif phenomenon: the brand new “wine bar at the wine bar,” just unveiled thanks to wine shop mistress Alyssa Twelker. It’s a charming idea to please those eager to sip and munch while examining those intricate wine labels. I’d like to take credit for the new très petite seating for tastings and light apps inside the very wine bar itself, having pioneered that particular seating arrangement (it wasn’t exactly kosher at the time) along with my wine buddy W.G. It all started when we tried to meet for a glass of wine and found the establishment suddenly closed for a private party. Being mothers of invention, we simply took our act into the retail section itself.

Boyle, re-entering our coastal atmosphere after a tasting trip to France, gave the unusual sipping location her blessing. And voila! Now this cozy tasting area surrounded by bins and shelves of liquid temptation is a permanent fixture—open every day from noon to 5 p.m.

But enough about the seats, let us now celebrate the beautiful summer menu handiwork of Soif’s official new chef of record Mark Denham, whose culinary pedigree includes Postrio, Manresa and Chez Panisse. Denham is finessing outstanding burrata with purslane and walnuts, and such seasonal sparkle as a recent salad of Little Gem lettuce, punctuated with perfect sugar snap pea pods opened to reveal their cargo of infant peas. The greens were studded with Canary melon and topped with shaved pecorino. A smart orchestration of flavor tones and textures.

Blue Agave Spirit

El Ladrón Blanco, the blue agave spirit from Sean Venus—Santa Cruz’s only distillery, recently opened on the Westside—was just bottled and shipped out at the end of July. Start haunting your favorite liquor shop. And look forward to the first batch of Wayward Whiskey Single Malt (also from Venus Spirits), which has now begun the aging process in new charred American oak barrels. This is news worth toasting.

Wines of the Week

From the house of Roth comes the new house Sauvignon Blanc 2012 at Gabriella. Everything you want in a brilliant summer wine—light alcohol, long minerals, a touch of lemon, tropical fruit, perhaps some geranium top notes. Terrific with seafood, like the tagliatelle dotted with salmon, summer squash, and spicy Calabria chiles that we inhaled the hour before the Cabrillo Festival opener last week. Delish. Ditto on an appetizer of caponata, creamy rabbit pâté, and a mountain of soft, sweet, roasted garlic served with the never-better house focaccia. Our other top Sauvignon Blanc this week is Patianna’s 2011 beauty, found at Shopper’s Corner. Data points: $13.99. 13.8 percent alcohol. Salt, lemon, lychee—a gorgeously balanced blend.

Christina Waters was born in Santa Cruz and raised all over the world (thanks to an Air Force dad), with real-world training in journalism, painting, music, woodworking, winetasting, trail running, reiki, organic gardening, and teaching. She has a PhD in Philosophy, teaches in the Arts at UCSC and sings with the UCSC Concert Choir.

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