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RestaurantsSanta Cruz
January 17-24, 2007

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La Posta

Photograph by Carlie Statsky
Reasons to be cheerful: The convivial feel of the holidays never fades at La Posta.

Post Holiday Pick-Me-Up

Traditional five-course meals carry hearty celebrations into the new year at La Posta

By Selene Latigo

I'm always depressed after the holidays. It's not because I buy into the craze of consumerism or relate to religious associations, but more due to the sudden letdown of facing the banalities of going back to day-to-day existence. No more parties, no more festive brandy-filled baking occasions and no more childhood traditions with family and friends. I fall into a funk noticeable to everyone around me, so Dave, being the savior that he is (even if he does have an ulterior motive), dragged me out to face Friday night with a cheerful, multicourse meal full of sophisticated indulgence and wine at our new friend, La Posta.

The old, dim Pearl restaurant has been transformed into a linear yet soft and welcoming space. At 6:30pm, every table was packed, people were stacked two deep at the wine bar and a 30-minute wait was required with or without a reservation. We tucked into our preliminary glasses of chianti with a surprise acquaintance (chance meetings and familiar faces became a theme throughout the evening). There was a loud, convivial feeling, with everyone appearing to have a genuinely good time. Maybe we all need to extend the celebration after New Year's with resolutions to enjoy higher quality food and drink in moderate amounts instead of the cold turkey cessations that lead to binge excessiveness.

The menu, simply broken up into classic Italian courses, led us to decide on sharing a five-course dinner. The wine list features a scaled-down, all-Italian selection borrowing from La Posta's sister restaurant, Soif, and their expert wine knowledge. My glass of 2002 Negroamaro, Salice Salentino from Puglia ($6.75), was spicy, cool and full of flowers and fruit, while Dave's 2001 Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, San Savino ($9.25) was darker, leathery and deep with dried fruit and at its best with food.

We began with the mussel soup ($8): a light broth full of fresh parsley, diced red pepper and plump mussels, rich with tidal depth. A crisp crostini was thickly spread with roasted garlic, texturally mingling with the soup and adding rich, caramel flavor. The plateful of outstanding house-made sourdough (which we had to ask for) provided even more potential sopping of the savory broth.

Next came the pizza ($12), always a favorite option, and even more exciting from a wood-fired oven. This one was scattered with Cavolo Nero kale, goat cheese and a hint of hot pepper, with a copious coating of olive oil. The crust was cracker thin, golden and crunchy, remaining sturdy under the deep greens and creamy dollops of cheese. I found myself wanting a sauce or another smooth layer of alternate cheese to balance the texture of the crust.

Our "primi" arrived next, a sizable portion of petite, tender potato gnocchi with oxtail ragu ($16). The term "ragu" conjures images of a thick sauce; however, this dish was more of a savory sauté, simply mingling the rich, soft meat with the feather light starch.

The standout of this meal was our entree, the whole roasted Branzino ($25). This Mediterranean sea bass arrived intact, a sight that might disturb some but a preparation that maintains ultimate flavor. The fish was stuffed with parsley and drizzled in a Meyer lemon relish, the fragrant citrus and its rind offering a fresh zing. The whole roasted cippolini onions noted on the menu were, by our recognition, in fact leeks, which brought a sweet, earthy level to this amazing dish.

We also ordered the ceci beans ($5) from the "contorni" section to supplement our main entree. Italian for chickpea, these beans were crushed and blended, with a bright prevalence of mint serving as a refreshing substitution for its typical associations with hummus. This course begged for a white wine, so we split a glass of 2005 Muller Thurgau, "Cantina Terlano" ($7.50); its light lemon spritz and backing of tropical custard notes paired beautifully.

Dessert was a tough choice; my final decision ended up being a symbolic goodbye to the holiday season and its plethora of cookies. The cookie plate ($5) held three classic selections: somewhat cakey almond biscotti, perfect amaretti that crackled and then melted in the mouth, and two bittersweet chocolate walnut rounds, finishing off this jovial meal in the deeply satisfying way that only chocolate can. All were great dippers for the excellently poured espresso ($2), thick with crema and black as the winter night outside, which we reluctantly re-entered after this much needed, soul-nurturing dinner.

La Posta

Address: 538 Seabright, Santa Cruz

Phone: 831.457.2782

Hours: Tuesday-Thursday, 5pm-9pm Friday-Saturday, 5pm-9:30pm

Price Range: $5-$27.

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