Ah, the arancini! The mouth-watering mules!
Find those and more at The Hour unfolding at Soif each Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 5-6 p.m. A sophisticated happy hour without sawdust on the floor, this hour offers a special menu with special prices that will appeal to those who crave some action before the dinner hour officially gets underway.
Clever marketing to be sure, The Hour lets Soifists sample cocktails for $9, selected wines for $7, and nibble a Caesar salad for $8 while catching up on downtown gossip.
So Katya and I swung ‘round to see what Chef Tom McNary’s kitchen had going on last week. Priced between $7-15, The Hour’s menu tempted us with 21st-century bar food in the form of Vietnamese-style grilled quail ($11) accompanied by rosy leaf lettuce, pickled onions and slices of the best ripe tomatoes I’ve had all season.
The glazed quail was tender-chewy and wonderful, especially dipped in a tart and fiery “mignonette” sauce laced with chilis and shallots. Another choice combo we inhaled was an order of slender-cut french fries ($5), along with a substantial bowl of mussels in a broth of white wine, cream and shallots ($15). The fries were great dipped Belgian-style into the shellfish broth.
The Hour’s menu is not written in stone, so expect it to morph along with the seasons. I was impressed with one of the special cocktails dreamed up for The Hour by bar manager Matt Barron. The Ambrosia is a tall, complex cooler of gin, grapefruit liqueur, orgeat almond liqueur (think liquid marzipan), lemon, and soda. Seriously fine, thanks to mixologist Jon Bates, and faintly creamy-tasting (that’s the orgeat), the impressive cocktail was topped with a slice of preserved lemon ($9).
Katya enjoyed a $7 glass of mineral-intensive French Domaine de Menard Colombard, Ugni Blanc blend. The citrusy white wine was from a rotating list of wines—a sparkler, a red and a white—selected by retail manager Alexis Carr.
My favorite on the new menu was a trio of plump arancini ($7) filled with melting, oozing Gruyere and floating in a killer tomato sauce. Perfect Italianate rice balls, somehow made to go with a gin cocktail. Another highlight is an oyster shooter with tobiko ($5). Tastes like a 60-minute warm-up for whatever comes next. Terrific idea.
Soif, 105 Walnut Ave., Santa Cruz. 423-2020, soifwine.com.
The annual Santa Cruz Chef’s Dinner will be held Sept. 12 from 6-9 p.m. at 126 High St., near downtown. Always an unforgettable chance to dine well with friends and community to benefit Second Harvest Food Bank’s award-winning Food For Children program. After the 6 p.m. champagne reception and silent auction, this year’s six-course meal starts at 7:15. The menu, paired with local wines, will be prepared by chefs Peter Henry from The Cremer House, Ella King from Ella’s at the Airport, Steve Wilson of Cafe Cruz, Brad Briske from Home, Jeffrey Wall of Alderwood, and Anthony Kresge of Chef Anthony. For prices, go to thefoodbank.org.
Staff Does Wine
Here’s a chance to sample wines and meet the winemakers at Staff of Life Natural Foods’ “Taste the Best Fest” on Sunday, Sept. 8, from 3-6 p.m. on the patio at 1266 Soquel Ave. Pouring at the event will be winemakers Ian Brand, Marty Mathis of Kathryn Kennedy Winery, John Richey of Bottle Jack Winery, and Brandon Armitage of Armitage Winery. Robby Honda will pour samples of his artisanal Tanuki Cider. All to benefit Habitat for Humanities Monterey Bay. $10 advance on Eventbrite/$18 door.