Winemakers along the tiny alley between Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing and West End Tap and Kitchen have unfurled another secret weapon in their ongoing tasting arsenal. A sleek row of festival tenting now unites the outdoor tasting spaces of Equinox, Sones Cellars, and Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard wineries.
Rainproof—“it’s just gotten its first test,” said an obviously delighted Michael Sones—and as cozy as socially distanced seating can get, the attractive new tents expand the tasting opportunities for several of our top local wineries.
“It’s become quite European in feel and in atmosphere,” winemaker Sones noted. “More friendly, with the pedestrian only thoroughfare on weekends.”
Jeff Emery’s Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard tasting area pioneered the weather-proof tenting. “We did some research and bought our own,” Emery explained, “but then the others located tents that came complete with installation, and they all went in together.”
The effect is visually irresistible. Emery, whose wine sales are open seven days a week, says that the issue of outdoor heaters is currently being discussed. With MJA Vineyards just across the courtyard, Silver Mountain Vineyards just around the corner, and Stockwell Cellars at the end of the block, the Surf City group continues to fine-tune its tasting appeal. The new tent pavilions, as well as the other members of the winemaking suite, are currently open for tasting on weekends, noon to 5pm.
Two particularly notable salads have reached the trunk of my car—and then my dining table—this week. First, we split a special pear and pumpkin salad from Avanti that offered a bed of frisee and arugula tossed with ripe pears, hazelnuts, gorgonzola, and slices of roast pumpkin all glistening in a tangy honey-sherry vinaigrette ($12). The textures—both soft and crunchy— as well as the fruit/cheese balance made every forkful a flavor odyssey. Yes, I know that sounds over-the-top. But there was a lot going on in this salad and it all worked! Autumn on a plate, and terrific with our main courses of duck confit (for which Avanti is justly famous) and lamb meatballs with polenta and red peppers (one of our house favorites).
On another evening, we picked up a pizza from Pizzeria Avanti (housed in the original home of Avanti; there will be a quiz on all this). To partner the excellent pizza we also brought home a dish so popular that it’s been on the menu of this restaurant (under two owners) for at least 25 years. Yes, I’m talking about the justly famous brussels sprouts salad. A truly flawless assemblage of autumnal flavors (even though it’s great all year round), this salad offers arugula and frisée, tossed with very tiny, perfectly roasted brussels sprouts, seasonal shell beans, toasted pumpkin seeds and the secret heart: diced pancetta, all tossed in a memorable sherry shallot vinaigrette ($12).
Did you ever think you’d crave brussels sprouts? Neither did I. But this salad is practically addictive, with the brussels sprouts adding a vibrant meatiness to the dish. And it goes with everything, including a side of grilled chicken for an extra $7.
Avanti Restaurant, 1917 Mission St., Santa Cruz. 5pm-9pm Wednesday-Sunday. avantisantacruz.com. Pizzeria Avanti, 1711 Mission St., Santa Cruz. Carryout dinner nightly from 5pm. 831-425-1807, pizzeriaavanti.net.
Wine of the Week: A well-structured organic Malbec, 2016 Tapiz, from Mendoza, Argentina, contains hints of leather, cherries and violets, 13.8% alcohol (perfect) and the sort of pricetag that will make a believer out of you ($9.99). Head to that user-friendly bargain rack at Shopper’s Corner and find the Tapiz among many other intriguing possibilities. All priced to make you smile, even in the worst of situations.