An antique mirror in elaborate gold frame, circa 1880, approximately 12 feet high, holds its dramatic own at the far corner of the new Birichino Winery Tasting Room, a study in 19th century Wild West avant garde decor. Forest green wall treatment flatters the curved mahogany heartwood bar bordered with rare pewter trim. A Buddha perches next to a vintage hand-tinted oval portrait, and sophisticated spherical light fixtures are suspended from the pressed tin ceiling. An astonishing retro flourish—with plenty of postmodern wit—in which to celebrate, pour, taste, and enjoy the vibrant line of Birichino wines. At long last the tasting room is now open—still a work-in-progress, mind you—but open to help nudge us toward the holidays. Congratulations to Alex Krause and John Locke. 204 Church St. in downtown Santa Cruz. 425-4811, birichino.com.
No one told me that persimmons were extraterrestrial. But clearly they are, as I discovered when I began making persimmon pudding cake last week. My hands were quickly covered with gleaming, gelatinous orange goo, and I flashed back to the latex monster of the sci-fi classic Alien. I had found myself gifted with a huge bounty from the nonstop persimmon harvest that struck Santa Cruz last week. Every yard seemed to glow with the gorgeous heart-shaped Hachiya fruit, dripping from trees whose very leaves echoed the vermillion hue. Seriously, the persimmon has to be the most beautiful fruit. My sweetie painted many oil portraits of the harvest that graced our table this month. My friend Dee is so passionate about persimmons that she freezes the pulp and dries the fruit so that she can both snack on and bake with persimmons all year long. Here’s to the persimmon!
Wine of the Week
The structurally robust and aromatically appealing Tempranillo Pierce Ranch 2013 from the hand of Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard’s winemaker Jeff Emery. Offered for close to $20 under Emery’s Quinta Cruz label, the ambidextrous red wine partners memorably with chile verde or highly seasoned curries, as with meals of salmon and quinoa, or—yes—a juicy cheeseburger. Recently elevated in our hearts and tastebuds to new status as our house red, this lovely wine yields an aromatic middle bandwidth of dark berries, bay leaves and anise. Perfect for the briskets of Hannukah or any other meal that requires a sturdy, distinguished red wine. At Shopper’s.
Surprise Appetizer of the Week
Sometimes you win and sometimes you don’t when ordering an unknown dish on a menu. This time we won! The place was Ambrosia India Bistro in Scotts Valley, the dish was a global creation of crisp samosa, stuffed with potatoes and peas, plus fresh avocados. It’s called Samosa Avocado Chat—who could resist? and it arrived in a large square dish with the above ingredients covered thickly with a blanket of yogurt spiced with mint and tamarind. Cool yogurt, intriguing spices, and the warm crisp samosa accompanied by fat slabs of ripe avocado. Easily enough for an entree, this bold appetizer gave us flavor thrills and unexpected ingredients—a lot for $6.50. ambrosiaib.com.
Pumpkin Pie of the Month
Everything your mouth wants in the way of a classic, full-bodied, texturally exact pumpkin pie is waiting for you at Kelly’s French Bakery. For roughly $4.75, the Kelly’s pumpkin pie is in all ways—voluptuous filling, tender flavorful crust, just the right spicing—perfect. Seriously, there are many great pumpkin pies in this town (OK, not “many,” but several), but if you order only one example outside the confines of your own homemade pumpkin pie this season, let it be Kelly’s. 402 Ingalls St., Sanat Cruz, open 7 a.m.-7 p.m.