Dec
15
2013

Top Tastes

Guddu de Kahari's beloved tandoori fish

Guddu de Kahari’s beloved tandoori fish

Five Best Dishes Now

Photos & article by Virginia Miller

Breakfast through dessert, here are five of the best dishes at new eateries and restaurants around San Francisco:

WAFFLES at LINEA CAFFE, Mission (3417 18th St. at San Carlos)

Linea's waffles

Linea’s waffles

Look for the tiny, wood-walled shop behind Duc Loi, a bustling Asian grocery in the Mission, with sidewalk table seating only. You’ll find micro-batch roasted coffee from Andrew Barnett, founder of Ecco Caffe. Then there’s salads, like kale, fried shallots, orange and pecans in a guacamole dressing ($10), tossed to order from GreenSalads.org. Most importantly, there’s hot-off-the-iron Lt. Waffle yeasted waffles cooked in Belgian cast-iron waffle makers. All at Linea Caffe, from Mission Street Food’s Anthony Myint, who, it seems, can do wrong.

Soul Groove's eclectic dining room

Soul Groove’s dining room

These are arguably the best waffles in town, crisply-delicate and meant to be eaten straight off the iron. I drive out of my way for a buckwheat waffle ($9) laden with salmon roe, crème fraîche and dill. But my favorite in opening weeks is a sweet, earthy, fluffy waffle ($8) graced with gianduja (hazelnut chocolate), coconut jam, and macadamia nuts.

CHICKEN FRIED SOUL SANDWICH at SOUL GROOVE, Civic Center (422 Larkin St. between Golden Gate & Turk, 415-734-7598)

Though I’d known Soul Groove as pop-up chicken and waffle sandwich maker, the signature sandwich failed to make a real impact on me. I’m a massive chicken and waffle fan back to my heavy concert-going days in Los Angeles in the 1990′s, complete with late night Roscoe’s runs off of Sunset Boulevard. I’m picky about chicken and waffles, loving both greasy-authentic and elevated-gourmet versions (and always doused in hot sauce and syrup). A recent brunch at Soul Groove’s brick-and-mortar cafe near Civic Center delivered some pretty damn tasty dishes, and a chicken and waffle sandwich improved from the early days at events as a pop-up.

Chicken Fried Soul

Chicken Fried Soul

The kitchen was quite backed up at brunch – taking over 40 minutes to deliver dishes in a half empty cafe. But they did “make good” on the hassle by offering free biscuits and apologies. A brunch special of tequila-glazed pork chile verde, poached eggs, and Louisiana-style red beans and rice tasted like mama was in the kitchen – heartwarmingly good.

Most importantly, that Chicken Fried Soul Sandwich ($6.50) seems to have found itself: maple-cinnamon-redolent waffles couch bacon-wrapped, buttermilk-fried chicken dripping with jalapeno coleslaw and maple BBQ sauce. Sigh. 

Conveniently, all is available to go and easy to order at the counter.

Stone's Throw duck liver pate

Stone’s Throw duck pate

DUCK PATE at STONES THROW, Russian Hill (1896 Hyde St. between Green & Vallejo, 415-796-2901)

A

Avocado salad crispy with pig’s ears

Stone’s Throw is Russian Hill’s new neighborhood go-to, the space more open and warm than in its previous incarnation, the high ceiling now lined with rafters.

The restaurant offers a generous wine, beer and cider (yes!) list. Though the menu at first glance reads “typical” (beets, pork belly, gourmet burger), Chef Jason Halverson (formerly of Michael Mina) ensures an elevated spark to comfort food, like blissfully fatty pork belly ($14) given chewy-crisp from fried pig’s ear, vivid with orange segments and creamy with avocado. There’s almost silken braised octopus ($15), meaty with chorizo, sunny with Meyer lemon. Desserts ($8) call to childhood joys in the form of oatmeal cream pie or peanut butter and jelly donuts.

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Peking-spiced duck breast & thigh over black rice with Asian pear & celery

I was most taken with a dish I would have normally skipped over, given the commonness of pate. Luxuriant duck pate and mousse ($8) is textured, artfully layered, and brightly flavorful with French’s Mustard and cornichons. Slathered on a warm soft pretzel and downed with a bottle of dry-hopped Finn River Cider from Washington, it, indeed, tastes like comfort.

BENGAN BHARTHA and Other Curries at GUDDU DE KARAHI, Outer Sunset (1501 Noriega at 22nd Avenue, 415-759-9088)

Beng

Bengan Bhartha

Myself (and many food lovers) were sadly disappointed when Chef Zulfiqar “Guddu” Haider left my favorite Tandoor-loin (Tenderloin) Indian/Pakistani eatery, Lahore Karahi, taking his beloved tandoori fish with him. The fish is back ($13), and it’s now sustainable tilapia, sizzling and popping with flavor from coriander, yogurt and spices at his new Outer Sunset spot, Guddu de Karahi.

Guddu de Karahi dining room

Guddu de Karahi dining room

Since Guddu opened in October, I’ve happily been working my way through Chef Haider’s new menu, whether for takeout or eat-in. The tandoori fish is as gratifying as ever, particularly just off the grill in the humble, welcoming dining room. But curries are equally made with love, tasting fresh, and greaseless, especially scooped up with alternately blistered and chewy naan – pretty much as good as it gets.

Try a lush bengan bhartha ($7.50), a fluffy curry of onions and tomato sauce subtly smoky with roasted eggplant, or a beauty of a creamy chicken tikka masala ($8.99) capable of reviving interest in the far-too-popular-for-its-own-good curry.

IT IS IT at THE VESTRY, Mission (777 Valencia St. between , 415-551-7306)

It IS It

It IS It

Despite a sadly bland Toulouse sausage ($13) and hit-or-miss cocktails, it’s dessert that delights at The Vestry, the accompanying restaurant and bar to the Mission’s perfectly-sized newer live music venue, The Chapel.

After a glass of wine and the dissolving crisp of lovely squash blossoms ($13) oozing carrot-ricotta puree, splashed with the green of pesto, dessert calls. The Vestry has re-imagined, and dare I say, improved upon a Bay Area classic food item: the It’s It ice cream sandwich. Aptly named It Is It ($7), creamy vanilla ice cream holds firm-yet-soft between house oatmeal cookies, glazed with chocolate. Consider it the non-packaged (read: fresh), gourmet version of a beloved Bay Area product since 1928.

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Oct
15
2012

Top Tastes

House strawberry soda in a cocktail at The Corner Store

SODA FOUNTAIN REVIVAL

Photos & article by Virginia Miller

A wave of old fashioned soda fountains serving alcoholic and non-alcoholic fountain treats alongside quality food is hitting various parts of the country with two notables in San Francisco, including the one-of-a-kind Ice Cream Bar and all-around delights of the new Corner Store. THE CORNER STORE, Western Addition (5 Masonic Avenue at Geary, 415-359-1800)

Boozy, lush Manhattan shake

Old fashioned corner store in ethos, contemporary in style, The Corner Store, from 330 Ritch business partners Miles Palliser and Ezra Berman, sells sodas, candy, beers, wine and gourmet foods, and is an all day restaurant and soda fountain. An airy space and outdoor sidewalk patio nod to an era gone by, though fresh. While the menu reads straightforward, dishes are more interesting than first glance suggests. Chef Nick Adams (Salt House, Town Hall) elevates the umpteenth roasted beets plate ($8) with Greek yogurt, candied almonds, purslane and radicchio in honey vinaigrette – it’s sweet, nutty, vegetal and creamy. Likewise, house smoked salmon ($10) goes well beyond the usual piece of salmon with potato pancake. An herb-laden egg salad flanks a crisp potato pancake, multiple slices of silky, fresh salmon and mound of lettuce.

Glorified house smoked salmon & potato pancake with herb-laden egg salad

Whether a burger ($12) laden with aged cheddar, pickled red onions, pickles and bacon jam, or a fried green tomato sandwich ($9) with burrata and avocado at lunch, items between bread are done right here. Thoughtful $16 entrees are a steal compared to similar dishes at greater cost elsewhere in town, like Snake River pork loin ($16), co-mingling with fennel, marble potatoes, and pancetta, invigorated with shishito peppers and a zippy nectarine mostarda. A side of house brioche dinner rolls ($3) with honey butter and sea salt makes it homey.

Gratifying fried green tomato sandwich at lunch

Hans Hinrichs (25 Lusk, Foreign Cinema) mans a soda fountain menu of cocktails ($10), boozy shakes ($10), and sodas ($8), using local or American craft spirits whenever possible. Though not the  journey through soda fountain history you’ll find at Ice Cream Bar, Hinrichs creates drinks that make you feel like a kid again… with booze. The Muir Trail is a tribute to local nature, both in name and the use of St. George Terroir Gin, a California gin foraged in the Bay Area. Hinrichs allows the gin to shine alongside tart huckleberry puree (huckleberry juice is infused with a sachet of spices, thinning it out with port wine reduction), dry vermouth, lemon and bitters. Sans alcohol, Lone Mountain Egg Cream is dulce de leche and sea salt, creamy with milk, perky with seltzer, plus a number of bottled classic sodas like Cheerwine and Dang! Butterscotch Beer ($4).

Cheery Corner Store

Spirits-laden shakes induce cravings. 50/50 – spiced rum, orange marmalade, vanilla ice cream – is textured and rich with rum and marmalade, accented by strips of candied orange peel. My youthful favorite, a Grasshopper, is a minty dream with Tempus Fugit’s unparalleled Creme de Menthe and Creme de Cacao, vanilla ice cream and a hint La Sorciere absinthe to perk up the mint. Probably my favorite of all three boozy shakes is the Manhattan. Tasting like a real Manhattan, punchy with bourbon, sweet vermouth, cherry syrup, creamy with vanilla ice cream, bourbon shines though Hinrichs uses no more than 1 oz. of base spirit plus 1/2-1 oz. of any other liqueur in any given shake. Corner Store suits a range of needs and moods, stronger as a restaurant than its casual demeanor would suggest, succeeding as an elevated, craft soda fountain.

Over 75 house tinctures for use in sodas & shakes at Ice Cream Bar

ICE CREAM BAR, Cole Valley (815 Cole St. at Carl; 415-742-4932)

Fantastic new Bonne Vie No. 2: basil leaves, basil ice cream, pink grapefruit, citric acid

Already a Cole Valley destination, Ice Cream Bar is one-of-a-kind. It’s the first to recreate soda fountain drinks not just from popularized ‘50’s shops, but back to the 1800’s, reviving the lactart, phosphate, and traditional sassafras root beer. Recent changes at the family friendly shop include the launch of a food menu and gain of a liquor license – it’s a beer and wine license, so they’re utilizing beer, bitters and fortified wine. Food is simple diner fare, the quality in keeping with their ice cream and soda fountain. Slices of fluffy, thick, house-baked brioche make the sandwiches, each served with a pickle and roasted vegetable salad or house-made sweet potato chips. An egg salad sandwich is soft and lively with chives, arugula, and the clincher: pimento cheese. My favorite, the tuna melt, evokes childhood elevated by Gruyere cheese, organic tomatoes and arugula,  the brioche nearly dissolving in the mouth.

Egg salad sandwich on melting-fresh house brioche

There’s one “must” on the new alcoholic section of the fountain menu (the majority is still non-alcoholic): a classic Angostura Phosphate. Fizzy with acid phosphate, gum foam and soda, a heavy pour of Angostura Bitters makes for a spiced beauty, conjuring fall and winter simultaneously. Can’t Stop is a notable dessert of butterscotch syrup, whole egg and cream, effervescent with Drakes Bay Hefeweizen (adding notes of grain and hay), topped with a musky Carpano Antica vermouth float.

Celery heaven: A Stalk in the Park

Some soda fountain newcomers are among the best drinks they’ve done yet. Bonne Vie No. 2 is a citrus garden delight of basil leaves, basil ice cream, and pink grapefruit – its sour-fresh qualities glorified with citric acid. A healthy-tasting lactart, A Stalk in the Park, is celery seed extract, celery stalks and mint blended with lactart and soda water – a fizzy, vegetal pleasure. Ode to Mr. O’Neil (a double-charged, amplified chocolate soda/lactart) and the wild cherry phosphate remain among their best sodas, but new additions confirm why Ice Cream Bar is like no other. As part of SF Cocktail Week, I judged the first ever soda jerk competition where competitors crafted one alcoholic and non-alcoholic creation. Though unintended, it was no surprise that all three finalists and the winner are all soda jerks at Ice Cream Bar.

Ice Cream Bar’s Angostura Phosphate & Can’t Stop

Creamy, textured 50/50 shake at The Corner Store

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Feb
15
2012

Top Tastes

Ice Cream Bar’s delightful team of soda jerks

1930′s Revived in a Soda Fountain

ICE CREAM BAR & SODA FOUNTAIN, Cole Valley (815 Cole St. at Carl; 415-742-4932)

Double-charged Ode to Mr. O’Neil

I was born of another time. As much as I wouldn’t trade the rights and access of today, I hunger for the romance, artistry, and intellectual pace of eras gone by. As a child, I grew up on classic films and white-bread shows like Father Knows Best, where youth hung out at soda fountains listening to the jukebox. Naturally, I was delighted upon hearing a retro-inspired soda fountain was opening near my home.

Cole Valley’s new Ice Cream Bar Soda Fountain is no 1950′s milkshake time capsule. Blonde wood ceiling, restored 1930’s bar (which owner Juliet Pries found in Michigan), illuminated art deco signs, all evoke the 1930′s. Soda fountains filled a communal void in the wake of Prohibition and thus were popular in the ’20’s and ‘30’s, but they date back to the 1800’s when, similar to pharmacies where signature bitters (e.g. Peychaud’s) were created, effervescent mineral waters were considered to have healing properties.

Making sodas

Soda fountain revivals and techniques are popping up around the US but I have yet to see this level of detail and historicity anywhere. Bartender Darcy O’Neil’s book Fix the Pumps, is responsible in part for the inspiration behind Ice Cream Bar. Bartender Russell Davis (Rickhouse) developed the soda fountain program, sourcing data not only from O’Neil’s book, but from 1894’s Saxe’s New Guide or, Hints to Soda Water Dispensers by D.W. Saxe.

Classically-inspired recipes line the menu: frappes, floats, crushes, phosphates (soda with phosphoric acid), malts, lactarts (natural lactic acid, commonly found in buttermilk, yogurt, Lambic beers). Davis created over 75 house syrups, tinctures and extracts, using forced cavitation, a culinary extraction technique that maintains flavor intensity of the original source. In keeping with history, bar staff are referred to as soda jerks, deftly operating vintage soda fountains.

Jerks finesse vintage soda fountains

After trying most of the menu over multiple visits, I can’t help but gravitate to the wild cherry phosphate ($7) time and again. Rather than saccharin cherry flavor, it tastes of fresh, wild cherries, in a house syrup and cherry bark tincture, fizzy with acid phosphate and soda water. Another highlight is Ode to Mr. O’Neil ($8), a tribute to Darcy. Like an elevated Brooklyn egg cream, it’s a lactart made with lush Scharffen Berger chocolate syrup and double-charged soda imparting a piquant effervescence.

Oh, that many a day could start with the robust New Orleans Hangover ($8). It’s better than a coffee milkshake with chicory coffee syrup, their sweet cream ice cream, golden eagle tincture (sarsaparilla), and soda. Root beer floats are herbal and creamy, using Russell’s sassafras root beer (an 1890’s recipe – learn about this root beer below in the Q&A with Russell Davis).

A vivacious Wild Cherry Phosphate

I wished to taste more pink peppercorn in the pineapple-based My Girlfriend’s Girlfriend ($7) and more tobacco in the chai-dominant Passion Project ($7.50), both lactarts. Yet all-in-all, each visit yields few disappointments. Splurge on the decadent pistachio milkshake for two ($16), or go earthy-sweet with Touch of Grey ($10), a candy cap mushroom phosphate.

Though Ice Cream Bar is about to launch a casual menu of soups, grilled cheese sandwiches, egg and chicken salads, and the like, plus baked goods, house brittles, toffee, hard candies, there’s currently more than the soda fountain to draw you out. Their ice cream is of unexpectedly high quality, overseen by Ray Lai, who worked at Bi-Rite and Fenton’s.

Lactart revival

They once again shine with cherry in a tart sour cherry ice cream. Sicilian pistachio is rich and nutty. I’ve likewise been pleased with their ice cream sandwiches, particularly roasted pineapple ice cream layered in ginger cookies.

The ‘jerks’ are a delightful team assembled from various bars, offering earnest, knowledgeable service. Tell them a flavor you’d like from the house tinctures and syrups (grapefruit to dill weed), and they’ll make you a custom drink.

Sipping a custom mint egg cream at the soda fountain while listening to big band tunes is a respite I relish whether midday escape or dessert. Crowds of Cole Valley strollers and families abruptly center me back to today, but, then, it’s fair to say there is something appealing for everyone, child to adult, at this already widely embraced neighborhood hangout.

Q&A with Russell Davis

- Why is Ice Cream Bar different from other soda fountain revivals in the US? There are a few spots in the country supporting the “revival” of the soda fountain and its lost drinks, but none take it to the extent and level that we do at Ice Cream Bar. From top to bottom, our menu is not just based on using quality ingredients and refined processes, but also on its inherent historical value. Our syrups are all fresh, cold agitated and our ice is all hand cut. Even our floats are built to the same specifications as they would have made them in 1894 Chicago. We are not playing around.

- What connection do you see between classic and creative cocktails, the world you come from, and old fashioned soda fountain drinks? Many bartenders who didn’t flee the country during Prohibition to practice their craft became soda jerks. There was a beautiful way of mixing that was refined during this period. Also, the techniques that we apply to soda fountain drinks can, and I believe will, be used in the crafting of a refined cocktail.  What I’ve noticed as the biggest difference between Mixology and Soda Jerking… where bartenders focus on using fresh fruits and other seasonal ingredients, soda jerks try to capture flavors (in a tincture or extract).

- Tell me about your Sassafras Root Beer. How is this different from other homemade root beers? First, it’s made using fresh sassafras and a house built sassafras extract, something that you do not find in mass-produced root beer because, by USDA standards, it is illegal because of its slightly carcinogenic properties. But, there is nothing to be afraid of: it’s about as dangerous as cinnamon or nutmeg.  Most people use wintergreen, spearmint, and licorice or anise to replicate that sassafras flavor that was in the original old school recipes of root beer, but nothing compares to the flavor of the true stuff. Next, I use black and jasmine tea as a base combined with a variety of other herbs, then cold brew it with ground marshmallow root to create a thick creamy texture and give it head. Lastly, I add a little bit of St John’s Wort in so, hopefully, it will put you in a good mood as well.

- Given over 75 tincture options and house-made extracts, what crazy concoction would you order if you wanted something unusual? [Laughs] You’ll just have to wait and see when the next menu comes out!

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Nov
01
2011

Top Tastes

Top Tastes is not a list of all-time favorites, rather the best tastes of the last two weeks (since my last newsletter), often from new openings.

Sweet Explorations

Though my sweet tooth has diminished over the years, it only means I can’t stomach sickly sweet. I still take immense pleasure in a fine dessert. Here are desserts so good, they threaten to surpass the meal that came before:

CITIZEN CAKE ICE CREAM PARLOR & EATS, Pacific Heights (2125 Fillmore Street between California & Sacramento, 415-861-2228)

Citizen Cake's winning sodas & phosphates

Citizen Cake has been on a meandering journey from it’s original Grove Street location, to its new Fillmore home, with a recent revamp from restaurant to ice cream parlor. My last visit nearly went south when in the 4pm hour we arrived hungry for a meal as well as chef Elizabeth Falkner’s ever dreamy desserts. Our server informed us they weren’t serving the regular menu though their website, menu and storefront all say they serve lunch from 11am on daily. I’m glad they decided to make a meal for us (they said it was because we were close to 5pm dinner time), but I hope this gets worked out quickly so what is stated as being served is served.

Thankfully, savory dishes we ordered pleased, particularly a fried chicken Cobb sandwich ($13). Though pricey, the chicken is high quality and expertly fried over a layer of egg salad (nice touch), topped with avocado, blue cheese and bacon tomato vinaigrette in a brioche bun. The savory menu is predominantly sandwiches, salads, appetizers and comfort food dinner dishes like meatloaf or spaghetti and meatballs.

Fried chicken Cobb sandwich

Where I get excited is with soda fountain offerings. In classic style, there’s egg creams (favorites from my East Coast days), milkshakes (made with any choice of Falkner’s cakes), phosphates, spritzers, floats, and my all-time favorite root beer, Devil’s Canyon, on draft (now I don’t have to wait for SF Beer Week to have this gorgeous root beer!) Though cherry or Concord grape phosphates ($4) are listed on the menu, ask about off-menu options: I recently ordered a passion fruit phosphate, subtly floral and bright. I likewise reveled in the effervescent tart of a fresh Lime Ricky ($4) balanced by bitters.

If you’ve been paying attention, you know soda fountains are making a comeback, though I’ve been waiting for more to open in SF (watch for a classic parlor to open up soon in Cole Valley).

SF Sourdough Sundae

Darcy O’ Neil’s book, Fix the Pumps, outlines the history and richness of soda fountain culture. I can’t help but fall for the romance of perching on a stool at the counter and ordering a phosphate (the only thing missing is a jukebox).

Soda fountain sips are just the beginning. Falkner’s lush cakes, macarons, cookies, tarts and cupcakes still abound. But there’s now a liquid nitrogen ice cream machine (which she was operating herself on last visit), the liquid nitrogen ice creams a base for an extensive new list of sundaes and shakes.

I went straight for sourdough ice cream, delicately bready, not too sweet and altogether right in an SF sourdough sundae ($9) drizzled with grape syrup, brazil nuts and salted Spanish peanuts. The bowl is dotted with diced strawberries and an exceptional chocolate-peanut butter halvah, sticky and satisfying. I was ready for a second bowl as soon as I finished the first.

PISCO LATIN LOUNGE/DESTINO, Castro (1815 Market Street, 415-552-4451)

Triple chocolate bunelos

The duo of Pisco Latin Lounge and Destino share adjoining storefronts and menus, including the biggest selection of pisco (over 50 bottles) around. But I’ve said enough about sipping pisco here in 7×7 and Where magazines. Unexpectedly, dessert stands out here, too.

Recent returns to this duo (which I’ve been dining at on occasion for years), included a relaxed Sunday brunch and dessert. Blessedly, both brunch and dinner menus offer triple chocolate chile buñeulos ($7). These dense chocolate dough balls are dark and oozing, with merely a hint of chile. Resting in a pool of salted caramel with a vanilla crème anglaise dipping sauce, they are dangerously decadent.

 

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Nov
01
2011

Around the Bay

SANTA CRUZ WEEKEND

The Renaissance Man surprised me recently with a quiet weekend away in Santa Cruz and unexpected meal off the slow, winding roads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Though Santa Cruz is far from my favorite town, its laid back feel and beaches work for a quick getaway from SF, and its gourmet pleasures peak with ice cream and coffee.

The Penny Ice Creamery

Ice Cream, Coffee, Chocolate

THE PENNY ICE CREAMERY, 913 Cedar St., Santa Cruz  831-204-2523

The Penny Ice Creamery may not achieve the texture and flavor perfection of Humphry Slocombe, but it’s in that family of gourmet, out-of-the-box creameries, with changing flavors and hip status that keeps lines out the door. They use grapes from nearby vineyards like Birichino for their sweet, bright Malvasia Grape Sorbet, or Dirty Girl berries in Strawberry Pink Peppercorn, one I particularly liked for its peppery creaminess. My top pick was Celery Raisin, which was both vegetal and sweet, almost healthy tasting. One thing’s certain: I’d include a stop at the Penny every time I’m passing through Santa Cruz.

Marianne's

Filling Station

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MARIANNE’S ICE CREAM, 1020 Ocean St., Santa Cruz  831-458-1447

Donnelly Chocolates

I’ve been buying Marianne’s Ice Cream at Faletti Foods market in SF for years, particularly the peppermint stick flavor. Their ice cream is made with butter fat, explaining it’s dense texture. Also over 50 years old, Marianne’s ice cream is old school yet satisfying like Mitchell’s here in SF. Their shop evokes an America of decades ago in flavors like a creamy root beer or candied ginger.

FILLING STATION, 1500 Mission St., Santa Cruz  831-427-3455

Filling Station is an atmospheric spot for coffee in an old filling station. Retro gas station architecture meets third wave coffee as they serve SF’s Four Barrel coffee, while permanent food truck, The Truck Stop, offers eats.

DONNELLY CHOCOLATES, 1509 Mission St., Santa Cruz  831-458-4214

Santa Cruz' coffee king (photo: Daniel Stumpf)

A humble looking shop across the street from Filling Station, Donnelly Fine Chocolates is obviously a chocolate lovers haven from the moment you walk in to witness the chocolate being made by hand.

Bars are elegant in flavors like cardamom, smoky spicy chipotle, or Chinese five spice, while truffles/chocolates come with a range of fillings, including a booze-filled series. I tried tequila (Patron Anejo), brandy (Germain-Robin), and Scotch-filled (brand changes) chocolates.

VERVE COFFEE, 104 Bronson St., Ste. 19, Santa Cruz  831-464-8141

Verve's new 2nd outpost

To coffee fanatics, Verve needs no introduction. THE coffee of note to come out of Santa Cruz, its original shop has long been a staple in these parts.

Verve remains one of my top coffees, served to perfection at home in SF at Matching Half Cafe and farm: table. There’s finally a brand new, second Verve shop in Santa Cruz. It’s in an ultra-cool warehouse that shines in modern design and spaces for coffee roasting, cupping classes and tastings.

The glowing welcome of Tyrolean Inn set amidst towering redwoods

Restaurants

TYROLEAN INN RESTAURANT, Ben Lomond (9600 Highway 9, 831- 336 -5188)

Williams Birne Poire Williams

Blink and you’ll miss the “town” of Ben Lomond where the Tyrolean Inn welcomes with a red cabin accented by white shutters, white lights and hints of green. Surrounded by a biergarten, one imagines sunny idylls among redwoods sipping German beers. Alas, Sunday afternoon is the only lunch/daytime option (open 12-9pm, or 5-9pm Tu-Th, 4-10pm Fr-Sa).

Geraucherte Forelle ($8) - smoked trout with German farmer's bread and whipped horseradish cream

I fell in love with Tyrolean cuisine in the Italian Alps about three years ago, exploring mountain towns and roadside sausage stands on the Austria/Italy border. I wouldn’t exactly call Tyrolean Inn what I tasted there, rather it’s German food with whispers of Austria.

Though in the middle of nowhere, locals are clued in about this convivial wood cabin where one is serenaded by live accordion throughout dinner. Service was stressed the night we dined and a reservation was crucial. Waiting for our reservation was helped by a small, sweet selection of poire williams (Germanic-style pear eaux de vie), particularly Williams Birne.

Accordion serenaded us throughout the evening

Steins, pretzels, gardening tools and Germanic phrases eclectically line the walls, creating convivial distraction. Though short-staffed, servers kept a sense of humor in their frazzled state.

Draft German beer flows

I wouldn’t call the food gourmet, but portions are enough for a few. Tyrolean Schmeckerplatte ($21) is a mountain of meat, starting with a slice of smoked pork loin, Cordon Bleu (smoked ham and Swiss cheese layered between breaded pork cutlets), bockwurst sausage, sauerbraten beef over red cabbage in gravy, plus spatzle and sauerkraut. The highlight was Cordon Bleu, reminiscent of Italian Milanese-style dishes, which you can thankfully order as its own dish. Zigeunerschnitzel ($18), pork cutlets in spicy red & green pepper onion sauce (with fried potatoes and a German salad), didn’t quite work for me. Again, it could feed two, but tasted as if the pork and peppers were doused in seasoning powder, evoking quick-and-easy 1980′s meals.

An enchanting woodside setting with flowing beers and hearty food, comforts as if your German mama was presiding over the kitchen herself.

Bonny Doon's quirky barrel bar w/ submarine above

BONNY DOON’S CELLAR DOOR in the winery, Santa Cruz

Fresh boquerones at Cellar Door

To wine fans, Bonny Doon Vineyard and its legendary founder Randall Grahm need no introduction. One look at their whimsical website, and you know this is a different kind of winery. Sitting right in the middle of suburban Santa Cruz, there’s no vineyard setting, rather a funky warehouse with tasting room and Cellar Door restaurant.

I finally made it to the Cellar Door for an a la carte lunch (there’s a $40 per person prix fixe at dinner). Burrata salads, anchovies, wood-fired pizzas, are all foods I’ve seen in excess and had in excellent form in San Francisco (and beyond) for years.

Bonny Doon's funky tasting room

One could not honestly call the menu inventive, but for Santa Cruz, it stands out, and, in typical Northern California fashion, does so with exceptional ingredients. A simple plate of boquerones ($5) yields silky fresh anchovies in olive oil laced with slivers of garlic clove, thyme, a touch of red chili. Transported me straight back to Italy.

Di Stefano burrata with Heirloom tomatoes and rosemary toast ($12) is admittedly a small portion. But each bite was excellent, from luxurious burrata (mozzarella) to buttery toast. Roasted Early Girl tomato soup topped with sheep’s milk ricotta was a special of the day, while 2/3 of the restaurant seemed to have ordered the El Salchicherro bacon pizza. I followed suite but added a fried farm egg ($16 without, $18 with). There are many “bests” in the Bay Area for Neapolitan pizza and this wasn’t it, but it was quite satisfying on a grey October day in Santa Cruz.

Perfect burrata & tomatoes

The highlight of eating here may be the choice of Bonny Doon sips to pair with your meal. My top was Querry apple/pear/quince cider ($7 glass/$26 bottle). Dry and tart, its effervescence made a gorgeous contrast to the satin sheen of the anchovies. 2008 Ca’Del Solo Grenache Blanc ($7 glass/$11 quartino/$25 bottle) is a creamy, round Grenache, clearly oaked but it works.

2007 Cuvee ET is a Mourvedre blend, exhibiting bright berry but with balanced acidity. Their 2000 Le Cigare Volant flagship Rhone blend ($10 glass/$15 quartino/$40 bottle) is, as our server said, right at its peak at 12 years with light tobacco notes, earthiness and a fine minerality.

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