Living up to all the advance praise and then some, our first dinner at Soquel’s Home was a major hit. I can’t remember being this excited over a restaurant debut in many years. The small, rambling bungalow that has housed Theo’s and Main Street Garden Cafe in its many years of culinary service is now the showcase for the robust expertise of chef Brad Briske, who has distinguished many kitchens in the Central Coast, from Gabriella to La Balena. Interlocking rooms, scrubbed clean of decor save for polished wooden floors and a boar’s head over the fireplace, were filled with patrons as well as incredible aromas coming from the eclectic kitchen.
A small menu, long on pastas and starters, is matched neatly by a wine and beer menu laced with local creations. Birichino, Windy Oaks, Storrs, Bargetto, Beauregard, Sones—wines from the local terroir intended to marry nicely with the locally sourced menu ingredients. Briske likes to push seasonings into an almost tactile energy, with the result that each dish his kitchen creates delivers a sense of wild freshness. A savage masculinity romances without fussing.
Joined by glasses of three local red wines—a Trout Gulch Vineyard Pinot Noir from Alfaro ($14), a fruity Syrah blend from Marietta ($14) and a velvety Cabernet Sauvignon from Martin Ranch ($10), our meal was composed of three brilliant starters and a shared entree. Food enough for another meal the next day, and flavor enough for an entire galaxy.
Briske is devoted to ingredients that push dynamically against each other: green olives and capers massaged by delicate bechamel, chili and dulse, currents and lemon zest, mint and garlic. Fearlessly, he transforms earthy flavor combinations into something supernova.
We began with a long platter of toasts spread with warm chicken liver pâté and a topknot of creamy smoked gorgonzola ($7). The rich pâté and the mysteriously soft cheese proved an alchemical pairing astride a bed of bitter radicchio. Again, tension of flavors and textures. Another side dish of broccolini and kale conquered us completely. So brightly keyed as to taste almost alive, the tiny greens were lavish with pine nuts, tiny currents, and chilis. Electrifying! And so was the third starter. Fat slices of tender octopus joined potatoes, green olives, capers, dulse, and more chilis, all moistened by a gossamer bechamel sauce ($16). We couldn’t get enough of this spectacular dish. Like everything we tasted at Home, this dish was as layered as a fine wine—each bite had a foreground, a middle, and a long finish. Not tricky or overbearing, smartly designed to offer a procession of flavors throughout, each layer opening portals to the next. So much flavor impact, yet not overwhelming nor tiring to the palate. Briske relies upon assertive flavors—aioli, green olives, lemon zest, pancetta, and garlic—yet doesn’t lean on them. Struggling to locate provenance for his style, I found myself inventing “Huichol Mediterranean.” The unmistakable enchantment of the food bordered on the psychedelic. A mint-driven pico de gallo accompanied focaccia, and proved sensational on our entree of a half fried chicken ($25). Completely coated (an edible piñata?) in a deliciously thick crust, the interior meat was heightened by a savory slaw of chicory, cabbage and aioli. Such food practically levitates in the company of well-made red wines, and our choices served perfectly throughout the dinner.
The flavors of lemon, chili, mint and garlic were too incandescent to dilute with dessert, so the tempting flourless chocolate cake will need to wait until next time.
Home is open 5-9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, and until 10 p.m. on weekends. 3101 N. Main St., Soquel. 431-6131, homesoquel.com.