Bantam’s chef/owner Benjamin Sims was kept busy last Thursday with a full house, inside and out, at his Westside dining spot. Jenny and I scored one of the al fresco booths, surprisingly cozy on a balmy evening, and dove into what was to be a delicious experience.
Along with a slab of the house bread and butter sprinkled with flake sea salt ($5), we sampled a Navarro Vineyards Chardonnay—light and refreshing—and a Viño Ijalba Tempranillo (both $9). I need to stress this: don’t ever stop at Bantam without ordering the insanely delicious bread.
I went back and forth on entrees, loving the idea of prawns with cornbread and Jimmy Nardellos, but eventually ordering my Bantam fave, the pork belly with veggies and something incredible called chili butter ($25).
My dinner partner already had her order in mind: pizza! And yes, Bantam and its wood-fired oven do a killer job with pies. She opted for a simple Marinara pizza, which arrived lightly topped with tomato, garlic and oregano, maybe a hint of chili too ($13). Gorgeous, fragrant, and lightly charred on the bottom, which we both agreed added lots to the rustic flavor. All around us, happy Bantam diners—plus a few kids and well-behaved canines—were all digging into their dinners. A very pizza-intensive crowd, from the looks of it. And the reason is that Bantam’s pizzas completely seduce and satisfy your pizza craving.
I, on the other hand, enjoyed my beautiful plate of roasted potatoes, zucchini wedges, oven-blistered green beans, and dice of eggplant, on top of which sat a slab of pork belly. The Tempranillo was the perfect partner here. The plate had been sauced with pleasantly spicy chili-infused butter, into which I dipped every bite. Pork belly is playful food. Pulling apart the shreds of meat from the flavor-inducing strata of fat is the whole point. And yes we did save room to share a generous bowl of warm from the oven nectarine crumble topped with hazelnuts and brown-sugared oats, plus a large scoop of subtle sweet corn ice cream ($10). Plenty for the two of us to share. Bantam, 1010 Fair Ave., Santa Cruz. 5-9pm. Closed Sunday and Monday.
Two Santa Cruz area restaurants, Mentone and Alderwood, have been tagged by the Michelin folks for new designations. The famed guide to dining excellence is expanding its reach prior to the launch of the 2021 Michelin Guide California. Michelin spokesperson Lauren McClure explained that the upcoming designations “are new to the Michelin Guide, and a preview of the full selection to be announced next month. They are currently listed as ‘new’ on guide.michelin.com website, and could be Bib Gourmands or Stars of tomorrow,” she told me by email.
“By revealing some of the new additions made by our inspectors throughout the year, we enhance our ties to food lovers,” said Gwendal Poullennec, Michelin’s international director.
Mentone’s David Kinch (whose Manresa has three Michelin stars) agreed that this new category was “hard to figure out, but being mentioned the California Central Coast guide is a great honor.” Kinch speculated that it could mean, “a Bib Gourmande label, which is a recommendation for more casual restaurants.” It might mean the restaurant would be recommended, but with no designations like a star or a bib. “This is an honor as well,” he said.
Or it might mean the restaurant is up for a coveted Michelin star. “I don’t know what to expect for Mentone,” Kinch admitted. “My guess is it could be one of the three, but a star being least likely. We are completely honored. If we got a star, I would be surprised—but man, I would be thrilled.”