Looking back at Restaurant Week with Gabriella Cafe, plus autumn lunch at Avanti and more
It’s always a pleasure to spend an autumn lunchtime in the inviting dining room at Gabriella Cafe, where three of us held an Art Research Office business and pleasure meeting on the final day of Santa Cruz Restaurant Week, which owner Paul Cocking described as “insanely busy.” Of course it was, with seasonal inventions such as our dishes—which started with a crisp salad of young romaine, liberally garnished with rings of squash, purple onion, radish, cuke and tomato in a vibrant balsamic vinaigrette. Our main courses included the day’s risotto creation of squid, prawns, Romano beans and broccoli. It was sensuous, comforting, and balanced in terms of flavors and textures, and I stuffed myself without regrets. The fresh fish of the day entrée was a perfect orchestration of panko-crusted trout filet topped with puttanesca flavors of capers, garlic, kalamata olives, and red peppers. The sweet and tender trout was succulent, yet—thanks to the feather-light panko—crisp. On the side, a buoyant cloud of creamy polenta, accompanied by more of the day’s seasonal veggies—long Romano beans and fat florets of broccoli and green squash. Flavors like these make the “work” of a business meeting a whole lot more fun. How we passed up the chance to dessert on homemade panna cotta I’ll never know, but we did inhale some expertly-made espressos before we wrenched ourselves away from the sunny, relaxing dining room.
My friend Rita reminded me why it’s a great idea to revisit old favorite lunch spots on a regular basis. We met for lunch last week at Ristorante Avanti and enjoyed yet another way of putting the deeply satisfying flavors of autumn on show. She always leans toward the rich duck breast, but I ordered a spectacular entree of roast wild halibut—one of those plump trapezoidal cuts that is popped into a very hot oven so that the skin turns to a golden crisp crust. The tender fish topped an aromatic sauté of root veggies, including turnips and carrots, plus tiny florets of romanesco and cauliflower. Majorly delicious. Rita’s duck might have arrived a bit less moist than I like, but it involved the same radiant autumnal vegetable accompaniments.
Companion Bakeshop, home of breads so toothsome, so texturally sublime that they give carbs a good name, now has its 2014 Holiday Order Forms front and center at the Mission Street shop. Like many of you, we are officially addicted to every variation of the house sourdough rounds, as well as the incomparable pumpkin tea cakes and the almond biscotti. On the Order Form you check off what you’ll need for Thanksgiving dinner—sourdough croutons, breads, tea cakes, that kind of thing—pay when you place your order and then indicate date of pick-up. Also consider the Bakeshop’s archetypal pies—all-butter crust, local whole-wheat flour (even a gluten-free crust is available for an additional $3) in flavors like pumpkin, Meyer lemon-buttermilk, pecan bourbon, classic apple, and others, $22-$30. Pick-up your order on Tuesday, Nov. 25 at Companion Bakeshop by 4 p.m. Or on Wednesday, Nov. 26, you can pick up at the bakeshop, the Farmers Market, or Penny Ice Creamery. Companion is located at 2341 Mission St., Santa Cruz. 252-2253
Wine of the Week
Beauregard Vineyards Bald Mountain Vineyard Chardonnay Reserve 2013 is crisp, minerally, and laced with a complex balance of earthy, citrusy (Meyer lemon?) tones. This beautiful creation is substantial yet leans toward Chablis. Not an oaky cliché, it shows off the terroir of the AVA’s northern edges to fine effect. Should be available very soon. Watch the skies!
PHOTO: The fish at Ristorante Avanti is always a good choice. CHIP SCHEUER