Dining Reviews

The Local Dining Community’s Importance in Times of Crisis

Avanti and La Posta offered welcome comfort to one writer who left home due to the fire

Takeout food from Tatiana and Jonathan Glass’ Avanti provided a welcome comfort amid the fire. PHOTO: TRICIA MOGENSEN

We heard something about fires started by the heat lightning, but it all seemed so far away. Until it wasn’t.

The air was growing smoky. The next day it grew so thick we couldn’t take our early morning walk. And then the thick air had a name—CZU—and our friends in Bonny Doon had started packing up.

The CZU Lightning Complex fire was suddenly much too real; we knew we had to leave. An artist friend who lived near Westcliff was happy to have us stay in her cozy guest room. We thanked her by picking up dinner from nearby Avanti. After a day of stress and confusion about what to take, schlepping bags into both cars, I was never so happy to see a restaurateur as I was Tatiana Glass bringing a tote bag of dinners out to the trunk of my car.

As we sat in my friend’s kitchen, sharing a bottle of Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard’s Grenache—we brought plenty of evacuation wine with us—we felt so lucky knowing that we had a bed to sleep in away from the heart of the fire. We were pampering ourselves, but it made us feel human again after the anxiety of not knowing how things were going to go. A plate of lamb meatballs over polenta came with ripe, sweet bell peppers. My dish of tender grilled calamari was festooned with fennel and dry-farmed tomatoes, the kind that made me ache for so many of our local growers who were battling smoke and encroaching flames. Sliced chicken breast added delicious protein to a lavish mound of Caesar salad. In spite of social distancing, sharing a meal with friends during times of trouble can remind you of the important things.

We returned to our house the next day to check on things as the air got worse, and to rescue a few large valuable paintings. Since we needed more space to store artwork, we decamped to our second CZU evacuation house on the Eastside for the next three days. The whole Covid-19 situation made our away-from-home stays unsatisfying in that we couldn’t hug our gracious hosts or share food in the comforting, unselfconscious ways. Still, I gave thanks for the relentless work ethic and big heart of the La Posta team for two nights of outstanding dining. It is incredible how so many restaurants stayed tough and kept cooking during this emergency.

On the first night I drove the few blocks to the Seabright landmark and picked up dinner for the four of us. Along with a bottle of Italian wine we like from Shopper’s Corner, my sweetie and I enjoyed another version of calamari, this time adorned with roasted chickpeas and shaved celery. Succulent, sweet squid. Done to perfection. We also shared a brined pork chop accompanied by addictive braised napa cabbage and a complex peach and nectarine mostarda. 

On the second night, I had the incredible pork chop and wondered how braised cabbage could possibly be this good. The dish had been highly recommended by our hosts, and they were so right! My sweetie and I shared a lovely salad of little gems topped with fat ribbons of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Beautiful rounds of almond-scented, barely sweet, gluten-free dessert finished our meal. The amaretto cookie made the perfect end to the meal, along with a shot of Fernet Branca. I never travel without Fernet Branca. 

On our last night away from home, I ran over to Shopper’s Corner—god bless the brave Beauregards—and picked up some basil garlic Italian sausages, which we sauteed to go with home-cooked black beans. Simple. Delicious. We gave thanks and next morning repacked everything into the cars and headed home. 

Still smoky. But still lucky.

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.

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