Dining Reviews

Chef Tom McNary of Carried Away Takes the Helm at Soif

Plus local beer and wine highlights of the week

Soif was transformed into Santa Cruz’s cozy salon/dining room earlier this week, at a dinner celebration to welcome Chef Tom McNary on board.

The event was not only a chance for old friends to table hop, and for host Patrice Boyle to make the rounds, but also to meet some of the new Soif team, including Wine Curator Jon Bates and Bar Manager Matt Barron. McNary, well-known to the local culinary community as the longtime owner of Aptos’ Carried Away catering company, is in the enviable position of launching the next phase of his career—back in the kitchen of a restaurant whose mission is simpatico with his own. Locally sourced ingredients, an emphasis on organics, and commitment to green strategies all these make owner Boyle and chef McNary ideal colleagues.

The four courses served up showcased straightforward flavors, sensitivity to foods of the season, and beautiful presentation. No trace of menu trickiness. One of the fresh house cocktails—an elegant mix of raicilla (if you’ve ever been to Yelapa, you’ve tasted this agave-distilled spirit), Cascadia bitters, and house blended dry vermouth—arrived with a tiny branch of lavender attached to the rim. Mixology is enjoying a renaissance at Soif, and this was a bracing and appealing cocktail.

In the company of artists, growers, winemakers, and devoted town/gown patrons, we began with a delicious alliance between seasonal peppers and creamy house-cured cod, an update of the classic French brandade. Battered and fried, the “sausages” of whipped cod tasted sweet and rich on a tangle of various peppers, a slick of basil oil, and a topnote of aioli.

The starter was well matched by a white Burgundy from Domaine des Gandines Viré-Clessé. The wine continued its magic with a crisp salad of bitter radicchios, salt crystals, shaved fennel and mixed apples with a tart buttermilk dressing. For pescaterians, the main course was albacore on a fresh shell bean ragout. For the rest of us came a memorable presentation of grilled lamb sirloin, sliced rare across a hearty bean and olive ragout. A vibrant Bandol accompanied this dish. Lamb and red wine, a celestial partnership.

For dessert almond torte—simple, fresh, non-cloying—arrived with a bouquet of poached pears and strawberries. In every dish, care was taken to maintain the essential flavors and textures of the ingredients. Full, clear flavors of the season are a McNary signature. I expect additional new menu items to reflect the changes and deepening of the season. What we enjoyed at the new chef’s debut bodes very well indeed. Kudos to the kitchen.

Wine of the Week

From Skyline Wine Cellars, an affordable line from Thomas Fogarty, comes a very appealing, unusual Artisan White 2014. Weighing in at $13.99 and 12.5 percent alcohol, this Riesling/Sauvignon Blanc blend is both rich and fresh with lime zest intensity. It opens with an old world muskiness before launching into bright lemongrass, chalk and a finish of something like geranium leaves. We have been enjoying it with salty, pre-dinner snacks. At Shopper’s Corner..

Beer of the Week

Congratulations to Watsonville’s Corralitos Brewing Co. and brew master Luke Taylor, whose Zoned AG Golden Raspberry beer just took a bronze medal at the prestigious Great American Beer Festival, considered by many to be the Academy Awards of beer. The Corralitos brew is listed as “fruited wood-and-barrel-aged sour beer.” I’ll drink to that!

Winemaker Wednesday

Come to Shadowbook to meet winemakers Pamela and Steve Storrs tonight, Wednesday, Oct. 3, up at the landmark dinner house at 1750 Wharf Road in Capitola. Complimentary hors d’oeuvres in the Rockroom Lounge with every flight tasting. Learn, sip, snack, and discover a new favorite Santa Cruz wine.

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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