Dining Reviews

Happy Birthday, Manny

DINING mannyManuel’s turns 50, farmers market steel head pairs with Pinot, and a Birichino Malvasia

Like many food lovers—and wine lovers—in town, I miss Manny and Alice Santana. Manny was an Olmec-huge, sexy guy who adored life and all the good things in it. Alice was a smart and funny woman, loaded with exquisite taste and enough of a sense of humor to put up with Manuel. Together they shaped some of the better aspects of our region, including helping to mastermind and support the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, farm workers collectives, and believing that inquiring minds should find each other. And they did—many of them in the Spanish California gardens of Jardines de San Juan, where Manny loved to hold forth with guests. One year we had so much fun sampling his collection of French Bordeaux that we barely made it to the Mission for the last concert of the above-mentioned CabMuFest. But it was Manuel’s in Aptos that formed the sacred heart of their domain, a well-run hearth of delicious Mexican food, two-fisted margaritas, and ambiance that few restaurants can ever manage.  Through those doors passed politicos, virtuoso musicians, filmmakers, outlaws, bohemians, writers, lovers and neighbors who couldn’t get enough of their exceptional host and those gooey, glorious chile rellenos. Okay, long preamble, here’s the pitch: March 9-15, current Manuel’s owners Leonardo and Patricia Santana will honor the landmark restaurant by donating 50 percent of sales to Manny and Alice’s favorite organizations. Make plans!

Pinot Noir 2012

Last week’s farmers market steel head catch provided an excuse to open a bottle of Lester Family Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012 from Alfaro Family Vineyards. Such a lovely spice-laden partner to bold sea foods or pork roast. The licorice nose yielded to a mint and plum center. After about a half hour, the pinot began to suggest bay leaves and ultimately, cherry pie. The 13.5 percent alcohol is just enough to deliver intriguing flavors, but not enough to tire the palate. And speaking of Alfaro, coming up on March 6 Cabrillo Culinary Arts students can join hosts Richard and Mary Kay Alfaro for a tour and tasting at the Corralitos-based vineyards from 1-3:30 p.m. The following day the workshop continues at a “Pairing Wines with Appetizers” class in Cabrillo Room 908.  $130 for tour and workshop, ($35 materials payable at class). This class, through the Cabrillo College Extension, is led by Anne Baldzikowski, professional baker, culinary educator and author of Easy Artisan: Simple Elegant Recipes for the Everyday Cook.  Check the Cabrillo Extension webpages for registration.

Liquid Poetry

Playful and fragrant, with a honeydew opening into fields of wildflowers—that’s Birichino Malvasia Bianca 2013, liquid poetry from Monterey grapes. Peach and lychee tint the central stream of this intricate 13-percent-alcohol wine. It evolves in the glass, showing sparks of citrus liqueur, Cointreau perhaps, before its crisp finish. No wonder the New York Times paid serious attention recently to this creation from local winemakers Alex Krause and John Locke. To be savored for sure, but also a sprightly partner with salty foods, roasted almonds, Camembert, cornichons, and Thai food. Available at Whole Foods, etc.


True fact—I never leave the country without a few of those small “airline” bottles of Fernet Branca (Shoppers has ’em). This Italian bitters is not only a world-class digestif, its strange and exhilarating flavor has been known to ward off jet lag. It does, if you want it to  … Starting March 1 you’ll be able to feast on mega-designer pastries from Manresa’s new patisserie at our local Verve coffee emporia. Double-designer if you get my drift.

PHOTO: Manny and Alice Santana dance at his 70th birthday party, some 20 years ago.

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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