So I have been on a mission during the past 2 mos. to find good food in SC, as I acclimate to what is now my new home between the redwoods and the surf. The fall air is clean and crisp, Kerry won by a huge margin here...but I digress. I wanted to write this report to: a) share w/ you some places that I have recently enjoyed and b) dispell assumptions that people and businesses here do not know good food.
First things first: SC is NOT, by any stretch, a region for destination dining--not a Napa, Sonoma, or Santa Ynez. It is really a slow-paced community w/ lots of neighborhood joints and proprietors who feel connected to its people and the environment. I have found that trendiness and pretention are not that welcomed here, which in turn, largely extends to the food scene--for good or bad. The other caveat to this report: I have diverse food tastes and get just as much (if not more) glee from being at a hole-in-the-wall, gritty place w/ down-home food than a stiff, cross-your-legs, sit-up-straight place that serves a 5-course meal.
That being said, let me share w/ you a few places that I have come to enjoy (and in some cases, LOVE) in the SC area. So, perhaps if you're visiting your UCSC student or driving through, your chow-dar may have some direction.
1) Soif Wine Bar & Restaurant (www.soifwine.com): In downtown SC, went there last wk. on a Wed. night. It was completely packed, but we (group of 3) managed to get the last empty table as a walk-in. What they do: small plates, apps, entrees, and good selection of wine. Menu was small but thoughtful and not too much replication of ingredients. The scene: yuppie headquarters in SC.
What we had: pancetta wrapped grilled figs; lamb meatballs w/ almond sauce; sauteed arugula & parmagiano crostini; steamed PEI mussels; sauteed black cod w/ creamed leaks, roasted shallots & vanilla oil; risotto w/ roasted autumn roots, red wine braised beef short ribs w/ crushed potatoes, cippolini onions, chanterelles; total of 4 glasses of wine; apple & walnut crisp w/ vanilla ice cream; 2 coffees ($99 total w/o tax & tip)
Impressions: Overall, we enjoyed the food and wine. Portions are on the small side (esp. b/c we are used to seeing gargantuan servings these days), but all ingredients were incredibly fresh and bold in flavor. Favorites: lamb meatballs, cod, risotto, short ribs. Wine recs were all wonderful and complemented meal well. Minor complaints: food was generally too salted; felt like each entree serving could have had 3-5 more bites and they could just charge a little more; dessert was esp. small and least tasty. Service was inexperienced but friendly.
Next time: will definitely return for a light supper of wine, small plates, and apps.
2) Cole's BBQ (8059 Aptos St. in Aptos): Have been here twice now and have declared it the place for our occasional allowance of oh-so-bad-for-you but oh-so-good grub. What they do: Traditional BBQ and sides in the midst of a vegetarian-heavy region.
Hubby LOVES the beef ribs and, being the carb lover that I am, I mainly go for the super crispy, well-salted big mountain of fries. Hubby thinks the ribs taste nearly as good as those from Kansas City (Arthur Bryant's for those in the know). Haven't been to the $11.50 all you can eat ribs (and 2 sides) on Wed. night, but told hubby that he could go by himself one day so I don't have to watch him gnaw on those things (not a pretty sight!).
3) Marianne's ice cream parlor (1020 Ocean St., SC): I admit, I LOVE this place and would be happy to be the next spokesperson for their creamy delight. What they do: the most sublime ice cream w/ the most amazing texture and range of flavors (they have around 80). Folks, this is THE best ice cream that I've had anytime, anywhere. From their ingredient list on their locally-sold cartons, looks like they don't use eggs which probably gives it that great texture and pure flavor.
Some flavors I've tried: pumpkin, pineapple, raspberry cheesecake, butterscotch, rootbeer marble, mocha chip. Favorites: cookies & cream, northern Oregon blackberry. Testament to the power of a scoop: When I went to their parlor, EVERY person in there (age range from 4 to 70) looked like a little kid, hypnotized by the wonder of what touched their lips.