While Soif seems to be the #1 recommended restaurant in Santa Cruz (along w/ Avanti), I hadn't had a full meal there in quite a while. Y and I finally returned there on Sat. night and had the best meal we've eaten out in SC in a long, long time. Website linked below, but note that the menu is outdated.
The food was sensual and sophisticated w/ bright, clean flavors. Execution was very good w/ clear attention to detail. Cuisine was elevated by their unique and affordable wine list that encourages tasting and exploration.
We decided to go w/ a smattering of small plates/apps to share:
Squid salad w/ tomato-basil vinaigrette
Fresh sardine escabeche
Farinata w/ wild ramps & parsley
Risotto fritters w/ spicy tomato sauce
Braised pork cheek w/ preserved Meyer lemon, sauteed spinach, pine nuts & golden raisins
Y opened w/ a glass of 2002 Jayer-Gilles Bourgogne Aligote while I opted for some bubbles, 2003 Solter Brut Riesling Sekt. Both excelled at accompanying the opening seafood dishes, which were the standout dishes of the evening for me. Squid was perfectly tenderized and matched well w/ the delicate, bright sauce. Sardines were subtly oily and sweet, and the tart escabeche cut through beautifully. Herbal notes infusing their fruity olive oil were delicately nuanced.
Other dishes were very tasty too. Y liked the pork cheek best, but I wasn't as much in the mood for something that hearty or wintery. We did enjoy a glass of 1999 Real Divisa "Marques de Legarda" Rioja Tempranillo w/ the rich pork though. I expected the farinata to be patty-like, but it was more like a thin-crust pizza. Loved the tender, flakey texture, but the over-charring on the bottom led to bitterness that overwhelmed the toppings.
Feeling sated but well-lubricated and indulgent, we decided to share the dessert of churros and hot chocolate, an uncommon item on local menus. Unfortunately, this fell flat, as the 3 spring roll-like churros were very dense, leaden logs that tasted a bit doughy and underdone in the center. The creamy, fondue-like hot chocolate was very nice and not too sweet. Not as good as the version we've had at Border Grill in SoCal.
Even w/ the few minor missteps of the evening, we agreed that Soif is the best restaurant that we've eaten at in this area. For such quality food and drink, it's also a very good value given that our total bill came to about $65 before tip. The $3-5 small plates are a great deal, and the artisan cheese plate w/ 5 interesting cheeses mostly of French origin sounded enticing.
The hard surfaces can make for a noisy atmosphere and tables along the banquette are fairly close together, but it makes for a fun and convivial dining experience if that's what you're seeking. While service could use a bit more polish, it seems to have improved since our last dinner there.