Oswald
Dining Reviews

A Toast to Santa Cruz Dining Standbys

Plus the end of an era for Bonny Doon Vineyard

PHOTO: OSWALD/TRICIA MOGENSEN

The new year invites us to look ahead. But it also suggests a time to remember and revisit great moments past.

It’s easy to get caught up in the new restaurants, new cocktails, new flavors, but it’s

important—and deeply satisfying—to make visits to places we have known and loved year in and year out. Whenever I want to pamper myself, I turn to stalwart palaces of comfort. 

A monumental and still-charming legend, Shadowbrook exudes atmosphere any establishment would envy. A warm greeting, one of the liveliest lounges on the Central Coast, the rock and redwood-lined labyrinth of little twinkling lights, white tablecloths and stairways to countless dining nooks. Shadowbrook is the stuff of dining memories.

Over wine and some tasty seafood entrées, I joined two of my close friends—one I’ve known for decades, the other a new acquaintance—for a dinner filled with laughter, confessions, cross-plate grazing, and a luscious shared dessert of holiday bread pudding. The full moon shone down on the landmark cable car as it climbed the hillside and brought us back to street level. Great end to the old year. A salute to Ted Burke and company.

Oswald remains a consistent purveyor of flawless new American cuisine. Kudos to Damani Thomas and team for a brilliant track record and innumerable flavor memories. Not least of Oswald’s reliable skills is its vibrant bar, which always provides a perfect cocktail with bar snacks to match. Here’s where we can run into ex-husbands, former girlfriends, jaded attorneys, and city arts honchos all having as much fun as we are.

Gayle’s Bakery and Rosticceria has been doing things right for so long that it’s too easy to take this Capitola institution for granted. Don’t do that. Just consider the Blue Plate specials that provide fresh-cooked, affordable meals, on-site or take-out.

How many times have I popped in for one of those life-saving meatloaf dinners, all packed and ready to heat up at home. Or joined my film buddy Lisa for outstanding lattés and one of those consistently irresistible cheese danish? And that divine almond croissant? Because Gayle’s has been with us for so long, and not because it’s the very newest kid on the block—that’s why we toast this popular old acquaintance. Salut! And welcome to the New Year.

The Doon Abides

This year, we toast the Bonny Doon Vineyard Tasting Room, which closed its doors last week, departing its charming headquarters in Davenport. For six years, it graced the North Coast with prankster promotions and playful oeno-decor. 

But the original Rhône Ranger, winemaker Randall Grahm, has read the tea leaves. In a bittersweet e-mail to me, Grahm admitted that “operating a tasting room profitably is a much more complicated proposition now than it once was. Customers have a much broader range of possibilities to choose from, and I’m told they’re often looking for a more immersive experience before opening their hearts and wallets.” 

After 40 years of tasting room innovation, Grahm has seen changes that have moved the needle from intriguing California wines to craft beers to rococo cannabis-infused cocktails. “Yes, I know,” he added, “eclecticism has long been a trademark of BDV … but the experimentation and visionary thinking will, at least for the moment, be mostly confined to the ongoing vineyard adventure that is Popelouchum.”

One can imagine Randall Grahm, vine whisperer, roaming his San Juan Bautista grapes, tinkering with ever-more-colorful flavor possibilities at the Popelouchum estate. I’ll miss being able to pop into the tasting room to try them. Here’s wishing this local legend a pastoral New Year. 

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.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. risa

    January 5, 2020 at 6:51 pm

    You’re the best of writers, Christina.
    Recognizing your lovely & provacative way with words.
    Sincerely, Risa

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