The new Summer menu at Vim is full of impressive and tasty surprises.
An outstanding chicken breast marinated in spicy yogurt came with an addictive quinoa pilaf laced with almonds and golden raisins ($28). Brilliant pink pickled cabbage on one side, and electric orange harissa-spiced carrots on the other. Topped with feta and fresh mint. the chicken was as good as it sounds. Another new and welcome entrée showcased plump strips of skirt steak fanned across a vibrant pool of crimson romesco sauce ($29). A smart variation on beef and potatoes, the balsamic-infused steak was joined by a thicket of haricot verts and crisp roasted potatoes so good they could have given lessons. Seriously, these potatoes blew me away—a tribute to the chef’s skill and sensitivity with veggies of all kinds.
Our meal began with an early summer green salad (a welcome addition) crafted of tender lettuce from the Homeless Garden Project and pickled strawberries from Koch Farms ($14). The greens came atop a pool of creamy feta, flecked with crunchy pistachios and crowned with a boiled quail egg. The entire salad was tossed in a peppery balsamic dressing that had my dinner companion speaking in tongues. Chef Jesikah Stolaroff, a Culinary Institute of American grad, tends to use more rather than fewer ingredients—there is a copious crunch of pistachios and almonds—and often offers two sauces, rather than one. Some diners will enjoy this extra flavor complexity and intrigue. Others might find it unnecessary.
And on this, my second visit to Vim, I found the noticeably upmarket “butter board” ($21) featuring flavored cultured butters still the menu’s only path to bread. The popcorn provided as a bread substitute feels like a novelty rather than a creative addition to the rest of the outstanding menu items. Both entrée portions were large enough to make portion size a talking point throughout dinner.
We partnered our Vim dinner with glasses of excellent Termes Tempranillo 2015 ($11) and an earthy Costaripa Mazane 2015 ($14) and appreciated the generous pours—generous enough to last throughout our meal. I admit we did longingly admire the quartet of cocktails on the table across from ours in arboretum shades of pink, magenta and lime. Choosing desserts is a challenge at Vim, where the gamut wanders amongst fresh berry trifle, double chocolate fantasias and other intricate temptations. We succumbed to a shared order of the evening’s special warm apricot galette, large enough for most of the NBA’s free agents ($13). A tender crust surrounded warm apricots packed into a thin cream cheese foundation. The whole was liberally strewn with toasted pistachios—an inspired counterpoint to the sweet tang of warm apricots. But the whipped cream provided seemed mysteriously aerated. It tasted like genuine whipped cream, but was texturally light, rather than densely creamy as expected. For $13, freshly whipped cream is in order, especially with such a lovely pastry creation. The menu is coming along smartly in this very new dining room. And the summer season is clearly an inspiration for this chef, who deserves a setting as sophisticated as her abilities and ambitions. The ingredients—fresh, organic, local—tend (in most cases) to justify the pricy menu. If some of the huge portions were downsized, prices might be scaled accordingly. Vim’s summer menu gave us much to enjoy.
Vim Dining and Dessert, 2238 Mission St., Santa Cruz. Closed Tuesday. vimsantacruz.com.
Alfaro Family Vineyards’ tasting room in a glorious vineyard setting is now open both Saturdays and Sundays, from noon-5 p.m. through August. Terrific picnic and exploring opportunities.