Dining Reviews

Vinocruz 2.0, Plus A Successor to Assembly

A local wine standby focuses on food and a former fine dining restaurant turns to tacos

Partners Jordan Iversen and Matt Schofield have moved and expanded with Vinocruz Wine Bar & Kitchen. PHOTO: JULES HOLDSWORTH

When Vinocruz left downtown a few years ago, many of us mourned the loss of the only tasting room specializing entirely in Santa Cruz Mountains wines. But that was then. Now, thanks to partners Jordan Iversen and Matt Schofield, Vinocruz has relocated and expanded its offerings on the main drag in Soquel Village—though it’s still centered on our fine local wines.

The new owners brought a broad vision of sensory experiences to the space at the corner of Soquel and Main, which now offers food, live music, nightly specials, and even local beer and cider. Hence the updated name, Vinocruz Wine Bar & Kitchen.

“Everything we do at Vinocruz, even down to making our breads, is done in-house,” co-owner

Iversen told me. Day-to-day operations are handled by Schofield, along with can-do floor manager Sally Locke-Paddon. Iversen pointed out that the kitchen at Vinocruz has already attracted many dinner regulars who flock to weekday happy hours like “Flatbread Fridays” and “Tap and Taco Tuesdays.”

“Chef Maggie Fernandez, who came to us from Bernardus Lodge in Carmel, has been leading our kitchen,” Iversen says. “She was the one responsible for putting together our Valentine’s Day Menu, and will head up the food for that event.”

Vinocruz’s Valentine’s dinner on Thursday, Feb. 14, will be a prix-fixe meal designed by Fernandez. It will begin with an amuse and choice of appetizer. Entreé choices include scallops with mushrooms and asparagus ribbons, braised veal cheeks with black lentil pilaf and carrot puree, or Mushroom Wellington with mashed potatoes. Romantic dessert options include flourless chocolate cake and a chocolate sampler.

The $60 (bargain!) price includes your first glass of wine. Limited seating means that those interested should call Vinocruz now!

Vinocruz, 4901 Soquel Drive, Soquel. 426-8466,

Assembling Tacos

Always on the edge of reinvention, Penny Ice Creamery partners Zach Davis and Kendra Baker have now formed an alliance with Mark Denham (former chef at Soif) and manager Sarah Shields. The result-in-progress is Snap Taco, a very 21st-century fiesta of fun foods with an emphasis on tacos. It’s set to open in the former Assembly space early next month.

If intimate fine dining didn’t quite seem like the best fit for Pacific Avenue’s huge restaurant space, then filling it up with a zesty variety of quick and tasty options might just work.

The big difference between Assembly and Snap Taco—and given economic realities, we can expect to see more of this approach—is the counter service format. Primal Santa Cruz is successfully pioneering this style of dining on the Westside.

The Snap Taco menu, according to Davis, “is inspired by turning fresh, local and sustainable ingredients into new-school tacos bowls, sandwiches and other eats.” So casual is definitely the primary theme, with “a mix of seating options inside, on the sidewalk patio and in our private courtyard.”

Prices are expected to stay on the low side—a trio of tacos will cost around $11—with weekly specials and other playful spins. Already the colorful street facade is snapping into focus. Look for an opening in March.

Snack Alert

The Lundberg Family are major organic rice producers. Perhaps they got bored with, uh, just rice. In looking for the next Lundberg product, they came up with thin squares of puffed rice.

Lundberg’s Thin Stackers Puffed Brown Rice Cakes ($3.50ish) are each around 25 calories, GF, organic, and whole grain. Since the rice lacks aggressive flavor, the trick is to top it with hummus, cream cheese, smoked salmon, or peanut butter. Nice crunch, and a nice alternative to overly salty GF crackers.

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