Tag Archives: wine dinner

Visit Pino Alto Restaurant for great meals by cooking students plus Friday farm to table dinner

Lemon buttermilk tart from a late October “New Releases” dinner at Pino Alto Restaurant

Lemon buttermilk tart from a late October “New Releases” dinner at Pino Alto Restaurant

If you are a foodie and haven’t yet discovered Pino Alto Restaurant, it’s a secret worth sharing. I just had the pleasure of dining there for the first time. The Cabrillo College culinary arts department operates Pino Alto, which is located in the historic Sesnon House on campus. It’s open during the fall and spring semesters, Sept.-Dec. and Feb.-May, and the Cabrillo Horticulture department grows a lot of the produce served. Students from the “Advanced Culinary” class are the ones who run the restaurant (with instructors’ supervision, of course). Lunch is served Mon-Thurs and dinner Wed-Fri. See the site for specific hours and menus. There are also special events like a farm to table dinner this Friday, Nov. 6: keep reading for details.

I dined at Pino Alto in late October; the menu I ordered from is available through Thursday, Nov. 5.  Dinner menus change every 3-4 weeks and lunch menus change weekly. A tapas-themed dinner menu will debut on Nov. 11. From the moment we entered the restaurant, everything was wonderful. Staff (culinary students) were very attentive, checking often to see if we needed beverage or bread refills (the bread was warm and fresh, so it was hard to say no, but I wanted to try several food items). The meal began with a complimentary salmon cake starter that they referred to as an amuse bouche, but it was bigger than the traditional one-bite amuse. Actually, I was pleasantly surprised by the generous sizes of all the courses! The salmon was delicious and moist, and the cake had a nice crunch. Chive masarpone provided a creamy, perfect topping. I had the chance to sample my husband’s crab-stuffed prawns with mango corn salsa, which was very tasty. Beet soup with ginger and coconut, garnished with a beet chip and crème fraiche, followed. It did not disappoint! All dinner entrees are accompanied by your choice of soup or salad.

Before I get to the rest of the meal, let me talk a little more about the way Pino Alto works. As I mentioned, Advanced Culinary students act as restaurant staff each semester. They fill all the typical positions including Manager, Set/Wait, Prep/Wait, Pantry/Wait, Bake, Pastry, Hot Line, and Head Chef. Our waitperson that night was Kimber Styles Ashley, who created—or helped create—quite a few dishes featured on the current menu, which is titled “New Releases.” She explained the menu-designing process that occurs each time: “This New Releases menu, which ends Nov. 5, was very much a collaborative menu. Individually we present a complete menu to our class in a discussion format on BlackBoard,” said Ashley. “Each meal is posted separately and we discuss, comment and vote on everyone’s dishes. We then discuss and vote on the dishes that received the most votes in class and then have a final vote. I was honored with having one of my main dishes and desserts chosen for the New Releases Menu. My main was grilled prime New York strip sirloin served with a lima bean and corn ragout and a nest of crispy string onions on top.”

My husband ordered the sirloin and it was divine; he pronounced it “buttery and tender.” My entrée was probably my favorite dish that night. I chose a wild mushroom cassoulet with artichoke hearts and onion confit. It was earthy and rich; the flavors and textures complemented each other beautifully. For dessert we shared a lemon buttermilk tart topped with vanilla whip cream and candied lemon rind. Let’s just say, it rocked our world and we sort of fought over the last bites. This was Ashley’s creation. She had the opportunity to work at Companion Bakeshop this past summer, and was inspired to create this tart after trying Companion’s Buttermilk Meyer Lemon pie, which she tasted at Pie Ranch up the coast.

Eric Carter, chair of the Culinary Arts program, serves as chef at Pino Alto restaurant and co-instructor for the Advanced Culinary class. He really enjoys these roles. “I love to see the growth in the students’ abilities and skills,” says Carter. “It’s a challenging class, nine units, and they are asked to perform at a very high level.”  It’s sometimes rough at the very beginning of the semester, he says, but things get much smoother very quickly as students become comfortable in both the front and back of the house. “Then I start to see them work independently and carry themselves with confidence.  It’s rewarding.”

Carter likes the fact that he gets to operate a restaurant that is well regarded in the community, and also influence many students’ lives in a positive way. He sometimes hears this from students years after they’ve finished the program.

The farm to table dinner on Nov. 6 will be a four-course menu with wine pairings, featuring lots of ingredients sourced from local purveyors like Jacobs Farm, Live Earth Farm and Stagnaro’s Seafood. The wine will be from Savannah-Channelle, Hunter Hill, Clos La Chance, Mountain Winery and Burrell School. See full menu below. The cost is $65 per person plus tax and gratuity. A reception starts at 6:30 p.m. with dinner at 7. For reservations, call (831) 479-6524.

Ashley is thrilled that several of her dishes were chosen for this event: the olive oil toast hors d’oeuvre, the rock cod fritter appetizer, the main course, and the dessert. She says that locally and seasonally harvested menus are her passion and that she’s been learning and growing in that direction through her Cabrillo culinary arts education. “I am definitely a California Cuisine-type of cook and would like to move towards the Slow-Food Movement as well,” says Ashley. “I think that’s why this Friday’s farm-to-table event was such a successful menu for me. Cooking from what’s at the farm makes me happy, excited and I feel alive.”

Carter hopes to see some new faces as customers in the near future. I can’t wait to go back myself. If you’re interested in getting on the list to keep informed about when Pino Alto is open and viewing current menus, Carter suggests writing to Sue Slater at suslater@cabrillo.edu.

November 6 menu

  • Three passed hors d’oeuvres: Jacobs Farm chive flatbread with garlic and brie; olive oil toasts with kale, feta, pine nuts and raisins; and ceviche on crispy won tons.
  • First course: smoked Pacific rock cod fritter with beet vinaigrette (or Romanesco fritter for vegetarian option)
  • Second course: grilled Monterey Bay calamari salad, mint vinaigrette, assorted Live Earth Farm vegetables
  • Main course: prosciutto wrapped halibut (depending on availability) with sage, served with rosemary apple braised chard and fennel potato gratin
  • Main course vegetarian option: Butterkin pumpkin sage risotto
  • Dessert: Apple pecan bread pudding with bourbon caramel sauce and cinnamon ice cream

Pino Alto Location: Sesnon House at Cabrillo College: 6500 Soquel Drive, Aptos

On Twitter? Follow me @santacruzfoodie.


Ben Lomond’s Casa Nostra offers monthly wine dinner

Melanzane alla Parmigiana (Mama’s homemade Eggplant Parmigiana recipe), one of the featured dishes at Casa Nostra’s July wine dinner

Melanzane alla Parmigiana (Mama’s homemade Eggplant Parmigiana recipe), one of the featured dishes at Casa Nostra’s July wine dinner

Italian restaurant Casa Nostra in Ben Lomond is hosting a wine dinner on Tuesday, July 28, from 6-9 p.m. See end of article for menu.

This is part of the restaurant’s wine dinner series. Events are held the last Tuesday of each month. For $65 (excluding tax/gratuity), attendees receive a prix fixe meal with five small plate courses prepared by chef Mario Ibarra, plus wine pairings. Every month, a different local winery and winemakers are featured. This time it’s Santa Cruz-based Rexford Winery. Owners/winemakers Joe and Sam Miller will be present at the dinner. Jazz duo Joe & Paul will be performing.

Contact (831) 609-6132 or juan.garay74@gmail.com for reservations.

After July 28, the next dinner is August 25 with Beauregard Vineyards.

July 28 Menu, featuring Rexford Winery

Creamy Artichoke Croquettes on a bed of mixed greens, with homemade ranch dressing

2013 Rexford Pinot Gris, Santa Cruz Mountains


Orchiette Pollo, with chicken, garlic, mushrooms, tomatoes, broccolini, pecorino cheese

2010 Rexford Pinot Noir, Brosseau Vineyard, Chalone

Melanzane alla Parmigiana, Mama’s homemade Eggplant Parmigiana recipe

2013 Rexford Zinfandel, Lodi


Boneless slow-braised short ribs, red wine reduction with carrots, celery, onions & herbs

2012 Rexford Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa Valley


Tiramisu with cocoa nibs & chocolate drizzle

2012 Rexford Zinfandel port-style dessert wine

Casa Nostra is open for lunch and dinner daily from 11 a.m.-10 p.m., and also serves weekend brunch from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays and Sunday.

On Twitter? Follow me @santacruzfoodie.
The Details

Wine Dinner Series, 6-9 p.m. the last Tuesday of each month: next dinner July 28
$65 per person
Ristorante Casa Nostra, 9217 Highway 9, Ben Lomond, (831) 609-6132

Santa Cruz’s Chaminade serves up new season of Farm to Table Wine Dinners

A scene from Chaminade’s 2014 Farm to Table Dinner Series. Photo credit: Chaminade Facebook page

A scene from Chaminade’s 2014 Farm to Table Dinner Series. Photo credit: Chaminade Facebook page

Chaminade Resort’s annual Farm to Table Dinner series, which features very fresh items from local farms plus delectable libations from Central Coast wineries, is starting soon. Want to whet your appetite? Read my recap of 2014’s opening night feast.

2015 Chaminade dinner dates:

  • June 26: Martin Ranch Winery, Coke Farms, Black Hen Farm
  • July 24: Storrs Winery, Fiesta Farm
  • August 21: Morgan Winery, LeftCoast GrassFed
  • September 25: Summit to Sea Wineries, Everett Family Farm
  • October 30: Alfaro Winery, Route 1 Farms

The cost is $110 per person and that includes hors d’oeuvres (served at the 6 p.m. reception), a seated five-course dinner at 6:30 p.m., and wine (served at reception AND dinner). Tax and gratuity are excluded. Call (831) 475-5600 or visit web site for details, including links to the wineries and farms that are being showcased. The specific menu is posted as each event draws near.

Chef Kirsten Ponza promises an exciting season. “We are very excited to be welcoming a new farm Pescadero called LeftCoast GrassFed,” says Ponza. “Also, Rebecca King will be coming back this year with her Garden Variety Cheeses.” I’m a big fan of Garden Variety Cheese; if you haven’t yet tried King’s products, or even if you have, I can only imagine the scrumptious and creative ways that Ponza will incorporate them into her menu! Chef Ponza hasn’t yet decided which night she will feature these, but when she does, it will be posted on the Chaminade site.

For people visiting from another town who want to stay overnight—or for locals interested in a fun “staycation,” the Chaminade offers Farm to Table culinary packages that include overnight accommodations for two, Farm to Table dinner for two, and breakfast for two.

Chaminade’s first Farm to Table Wine Dinner was held in 2008 with only a dozen guests. Now each event draws dozens of guests, and usually sells out quite a while ahead of time.

On Twitter? Follow me @santacruzfoodie.
The Details
Farm to Table Dinner Series
Monthly, June through October 2015: Selected Fridays at 6 p.m.
Chaminade Resort, One Chaminade Lane, Santa Cruz
(831) 475-5600
$110 per person

Santa Cruz’s Chaminade launches 2014 Farm to Table Wine Dinners

Ravioli from Chaminade’s June 6 Farm to Table Dinner. Photo credit: Fereshteh Fatemi

Ravioli from Chaminade’s June 6 Farm to Table Dinner. Photo credit: Fereshteh Fatemi

It’s officially summertime, and here in Santa Cruz we have one more reason to celebrate: Chaminade Resort’s annual Farm to Table Dinner series has begun! The always-enjoyable series showcases local farms and local wineries.

I had the pleasure of attending 2014’s debut event on June 6, and it lived up to my high expectations. I’ll provide some details below; meanwhile, I would go check your calendars right now for the rest of the season and make reservations—which are required—for one of the dinners.
2014 Chaminade remaining dinner dates are:

  • July 11
  • August 15
  • September 12
  • October 10

The cost is $80 per person and that includes hors d’oeuvres (served at the 6 p.m. reception), family style dinner (starts at 6:30 p.m.), dessert, and wine (served at reception AND dinner). Tax and gratuity are excluded. Call (831) 475-5600 or visit web site for details, including specific wineries/farmers for particular nights. The specific menu is posted as each event draws near.

Back to the June 6 dinner, created by the talented Kirsten Ponza. Chef Kirsten, who was promoted to Executive Chef in September 2013, is a delightful person to talk to about food and cooking. She knows a lot, and is excited when you ask her questions or make specific comments about a dish. Many people, including myself, relished our conversations the other night. When I asked her about the event, she said, “I love the Farm to Table series for many reasons.  I get to talk to my guests attending and really get a feel for how they want their food…I also love the interaction with the local farms and wineries…The farmers can explain much better than I how much love and effort it takes to make something grow!” She also adds that it allows her to be very creative and “…hopefully change some minds out there on food people would like to eat.”

Throughout the evening, selections from Pelican Ranch Winery were poured including Gewurtztraminer, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir. The wines were thoughtfully paired with various courses. Winery owner Phil and Peggy Crews were in attendance, and Phil shared a few facts about his Capitola winery and wines.

The produce featured in many dishes was from Santa Cruz’s Yellow Wall Farm, and owners Allen and Judy Rose Hasty were also at the event. Allen engaged the crowd with a couple anecdotes, and told attendees that although the farm mainly sells to restaurants and New Leaf Market, they do run a Saturday morning farm stand when the season really gets going later in the summer. Based on the freshness and flavors of the produce I tasted, I’ll be sure to seek that stand out. Chef Kirsten is a big fan: “Judy and Allen are true farmers in the sense that they care about everything that goes into the food they grow.  The earth, the plant, the product.  They are a great team that always has a smile and you can really tell that they love what they do!  We here at Chaminade have had a solid relationship with them for several years now and I always look forward to the time when they email to say what’s available.”

At the reception, there were four appetizers including strawberries stuffed with smoked blue cheese and pancetta. I’m going to try making this at home, knowing I won’t get a version quite like the one I tasted, but I was absolutely inspired by the blend of flavors and textures. And it’s perfect for right now when fresh organic strawberries abound in Santa Cruz. Chef Kirsten said it was actually Yellow Wall Farm’s current delectable crop of strawberries that helped inspire the stuffed strawberries, in addition to the gazpacho (which I’ll discuss soon). My other favorite appetizer at the reception was stuffed tempura squash blossoms. Absolutely perfect, these included goat cheese, basil, lemon zest and juice, and a light fritter batter.

At the sit-down dinner, our starter was a generous bowl of strawberry hazelnut gazpacho. It was incredible: creamy, and not too sweet. The Belle Farms olive oil and chive garnish complemented the soup beautifully, in terms of both taste and aesthetics. The first course of baby romaine with citrus avocado relish and third course of duck confit with Mediterranean cous cous were very pleasing, but I was even more taken with the second course. The baked ravioli (see photo at beginning of article) were served with a rich, wonderful medley of gourmet mushrooms – oyster, trumpet, shiitake, portabella, and cremini – and a savory tomato/herb Aurora Crème sauce. Dessert was the perfect finish, a honey mousse atop jasmine-scented cake, served with delicious raspberry dessert wine from Pelican Ranch.

On Twitter? Follow me @santacruzfoodie.
The Details
Farm to Table Dinner Series
Monthly through October 2014: Selected Fridays at 6 p.m.

Courtyard Terrace at Chaminade Resort, One Chaminade Lane, Santa Cruz 95065
(831) 475-5600
$80 per person

Two restaurant events in Santa Cruz on Tuesday March 12

Food at Lago di Como Ristorante

Food at Lago di Como Ristorante

There are so many fun food- and restaurant-related events in Santa Cruz that it’s hard to keep up; here are two occurring on Tuesday, Mar. 12, 2013.

Winemakers Dinner at Lago di Como Ristorante & Pizzeria

Lago di Como Ristorante & Pizzeria, which opened in December, is having its first Winemakers Dinner. The cost is $62 for a six-course meal including wine pairings. Courses include salad, pasta, fish, and meat (the latter is top sirloin stuffed with artichoke, panko, Parmesan, with rosemary-white wine sauce and served atop garlic mashed potatoes). Read more and view the full menu at Lago’s Facebook page. The event begins at 6 p.m. and features winemakers from Treviso, Italy-based La Cantina Pizzolato Winery. Reservations will be accepted up until noon on Tuesday, via email (lagodicomosc@yahoo.com) or phone (831-454-8257). Read more about the restaurant here.

Location: Lago di Como Ristorante, 2-1490 East Cliff Dr., Santa Cruz

India Joze Persian New Year Ritual

Now Rooz, also known as Persian New Year, takes place each year at the same time as the vernal equinox. There are many celebratory rituals associated with this holiday, including one where people “jump over fire” (sometimes a mini-bonfire at the beach) while saying certain phrases to “get rid of the old and bring in the new.” India Joze is holding a few events related to Now Rooz; read more at the restaurant’s Facebook page. One event is on Tues. Mar. 12 from 7-9 p.m. There will be free Persian appetizers and desserts, plus an optional fire-jumping ritual, all right outside India Joze.

Location: India Joze, 418 Front Street, Santa Cruz

Wine dinner and other news at Santa Cruz restaurant Johnny’s Harborside


Guests enjoying 2011’s benefit wine dinner at Johnny’s Harborside

Santa Cruz restaurant Johnny’s Harborside has several food and drink specials of note, and a benefit winemaker dinner in November (the restaurant does an annual benefit each autumn; each year it picks a different organization or program to support).


Winemaker Dinner Nov. 9

The winemaker dinner at Johnny’s Harborside is on Nov. 9 at 6:30 p.m. It features six food courses, each with a wine pairing from Joyce Vineyards, and benefits Cabrillo College’s Culinary Arts program. The cost is $75 per person exclusive of tax and gratuity. Seating is limited; for reservations call (831) 479-3430 or email info@johnnysharborside.com.


Johnny’s Chef Evan Lite and a team of culinary students will prepare the dinner; attendees will have the opportunity to speak with Russell Joyce, winemaker and owner of Carmel Valley’s Joyce Vineyards, plus educators from Cabrillo’s culinary program. Attendees will be seated “family-style” at long tables. Here are a couple course highlights to whet your appetite; note that menu items may change slightly. The first course is Trio of Pokes (Salmon, Ahi, Hamachi) with cucumber aioli, sesame sand, and spring roll wrap. The wine pairing is Small Batch Dry Riesling. The third course is Pan Seared Day Boat Scallop with uni risotto, butter braised leeks and fennel, and lobster broth. The wine pairing is 2011 Black Mountain Chardonnay, Santa Lucia Highlands. Other selections include Saffron Citrus Panna Cotta and Red Peppercorn Crusted Wild Boar Strip Loin. Other wines include 2010 Pedregal Vineyard Merlot, San Benito.


Wine benefit through January

Also: from Sept. 19, 2012 until Jan. 1, 2013, Johnny’s Harborside is donating funds from all Joyce Vineyards wine sales at the restaurant to Cabrillo’s program ($1 from every glass and $4 from every bottle).


Weekday lunch specials

Johnny’s has weekday lunch specials that rotate; each includes a petite or half sandwich with a small salad and a cup of chowder for $10.


Current selections

Monday: Jr. Cheeseburger with Grilled Onions, Secret Sauce, Shredded Lettuce & Tomato

Tuesday: Ceviche Tostada with Shredded Lettuce, topped with Sour Cream & Guacamole

Wednesday: BBQ Pulled Pork Slider with Buttermilk Fried Onions & Cider Slaw

Thursday: Grilled Chicken & Bacon Clubhouse Sandwich

Friday: Grilled Salmon Sandwich with Baby Greens Cucumbers & Tomato Caper Tartar Sauce


$20 Monday dinner

On Monday nights from 5-8:30 p.m., the restaurant has a special 3-course menu for only $20 – and that includes a sampler glass of wine! For each course, customers get to choose between two items. The wine is a 3-ounce pour and there are two choices (one red, one white). On one Monday in October, appetizers included grilled bruschetta with bufala mozzarella and tomato bacon relish and entrées included shrimp pasta with spicy ancho sauce.

Johnny’s Harborside, (831) 479-3430, 493 Lake Avenue, Santa Cruz 95062


M-Th 11:30 a.m. – 8:30 p.m.

Fri 11:30 a.m. – 9:30 p.m.

Sat 10 a.m. – 9:30 p.m.

Sun 10 a.m. – 8:30 p.m.

Brunch served Sat and Sun 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.

On Twitter? Follow me @santacruzfoodie.

Organic farm dinner benefits Watsonville’s Live Earth Farm’s education program

Food from a previous Dig! dinner at Live Earth Farm

Live Earth Farm is hosting its fourth annual Dig! farm dinner in the fields to benefit LEFDP (Live Earth Farm Discovery Programs). The event features local chefs including Jonathan Miller (a popular chef at local school Let’s Cook! as well as a private chef and caterer), plus several farmers and artisans. The program is from 4-8 p.m. on Saturday, September 22. Tickets are $150 and include food and wine. Purchase tickets online or make a donation of any amount to LEFDP, even if you can’t make the event.

The evening starts with appetizers and a tour of Live Earth Farm given by Tom Broz, the head of the family that operates the farm. Then there will be a four-course dinner — which includes wine from Storrs Winery, Birichino, Pleasant Valley Vineyards, Zayante Winery, and Cima Collina –followed by dessert which takes place in a renovated redwood barn. Another fun component of the event is a silent auction with lots of locally themed prizes such as a gift certificate for a workshop by fabulous food preservationists Happy Girl Kitchen Co.

The nonprofit education organization LEFDP teaches local youth about sustainability, organic agriculture, community, and the environment through farm visits, summer programs, workshops, and other hands-on activities. Over the course of 2012, LEFDP will support a diverse group of approximately 1,500 students, including low-income individuals from Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, and Monterey counties.

On Twitter? Follow me @santacruzfoodie

Aptos restaurant Ma Maison: special cassoulet this weekend & wine dinner Oct 6

Ma Maison in Aptos. Courtesy of Patty Hinz Imagery.

Ma Maison in Aptos. Courtesy of Patty Hinz Imagery. The charming Aptos restaurant Ma Maison is serving up cassoulet this weekend, and it’s a rare special occasion.

Executive Chef Lionel Le Morvan, a native of France, only cooks the cassoulet twice a year, as it’s a very long process. Janet Le Morvan, Lionel’s wife and Ma Maison’s co-owner with her husband, says the “…special dish from France’s Languedoc region includes white beans, sausage, pork and duck confit – and the ingredients are simmered over a period of days to harmonize all of the flavors.” The cassoulet costs $25 and will be served at Ma Maison on Friday September 30, Saturday October 1, and Sunday October 2. Reservations are recommended; call (831) 688-5566.

Another enticing event coming up at Ma Maison: a wine dinner on Thursday October 6 at 6:30pm. It’s part of Ma Maison’s “First Thursday Brown Bag Wine Dinner Series” which has a different theme each month. For the October 2011 dinner, the Le Morvans invite attendees to bring a bottle of Zinfandel to share with others. There is no corkage fee during these special events. Guests taste wines as they relax by the restaurant’s fireplace; then they proceed to dinner in the main dining room. Ma Maison has judges taste the different wines that guests have brought, and the best bottle wins a restaurant gift certificate. The event is $35 per person (tax and tips not included); for reservations call  (831) 688-5566. Wine tasting starts at 6:30pm and dinner starts at 7pm.

October 6 menu:

First Course

Warm Brie with cranberry sauce

Organic farmers market salad




Crispy organic Pork Confit,
 Cassoulet style


Valrhona Chocolate Mousse

Seasonal fruits and old vine zinfandel sauce


Ma Maison location: 9051 Soquel Dr., Aptos 95003

On Twitter? Follow me @santacruzfoodie.