Photograph by Curtis Cartier
NEW GAME IN TOWN: La Posta chef Katherine Stern is winning a following with dishes like hanger steak tagliata and mixed chicory salad.
La Nuova Posta
Chef Katherine Stern lights up the culinary landscape with authentic Italian accents
By Christina Waters
IT WAS A DARK and stormy night when we cozied in to La Posta to sample a menu newly invigorated by chef Katherine Stern. Bringing an impressive résumé to the Italian cuisine at the restaurant, Stern's touch was immediately evident. Although her designer portfolio includes San Francisco, Ireland and Italy, including a two-star Michelin kitchen in Montemerano, Italy, her approach is also seasoned by two years at a small hotel dining room in Scotland. The expertise and fiscal savvy to create the locally sourced, sensibly priced menus that would be required of a hotel chef is exactly what's needed here and now. Without sacrificing either flavor or visual excitement, Stern has shaped a menu that showcases design, execution and outstanding value. From a "recession-busting" $7/quarter liter Montepulciano d'Abruzzo to a racy Meyer lemon crostata, our meal at La Posta was flat-out flawless. We were dining in Italy and the authenticity was so obvious that we began mapping out another trip to Rome over starters of prosciutto and puntarelle.
A plate of blatantly addictive walnut bread was brought along with a fat square of butter and the house-made sparkling water. Struggling to keep from devouring every trace of the chewy bread, we changed the subject. The sleek, dark interior of La Posta recalls the Giubbe Rosse on Piazza della Repubblica, we both agreed, thinking of Mussolini's favorite cafe in Florence, whose gleaming woodwork and spare architecture is invoked by La Posta. Our waiter—informative, skillful and swift—also enhanced the evening's enjoyment. And he successfully tempted me with the evening's special salad of farmers market puntarelle ($8). Puntarelle is a crisp, celerylike variant of the chicory family and a big specialty in Roman dining. The pale green salad came topped with a well-poached egg. The egg came from La Posta's own chickens, we were told, and added that little something extra that was especially welcome on a cold night. The egg's rich yolk also deepened the bright tone of anchovy inflecting the curled strands of puntarelle. It was utterly compelling yet simple. I have had this exact salad in Rome, and La Posta's version was a vibrant echo of that memorable dish.
Our other antipasto was a beautiful plate of prosciutto di San Daniella with Fuyu persimmons ($9)—a gorgeous juxtaposition of salty, lean cured ham and the sweet-tart winter fruit. The two starters were gorgeous together, the vermillion tones playing off the greens, and the flavors complemented each other beautifully. Meanwhile, in one glass the excellent Nero d'Avola Planeta 2007 ($8.50) expanded into a bowl of spice, velvet and earth, while I enjoyed my Montepulciano, layered with appealingly rounded tannins, and even managed to save a few sips for the next course.
Our three main dishes—two entrees and a contorno of fried chickpea polenta with garlic and chili-braised rapini—arrived all at the same time and freshly prepared. Oozing juices, my rare duck breast had been astutely joined by a rustic braise of lentils in red wine and fresh Bloomsdale spinach glistening with garlic ($24). Nothing tricky or experimental, these flavors were old continental friends and deeply satisfying.
Our other entree was easily the best single plate in town: hanger steak sliced into crimson strips with roast cannellini beans crisp with a breadcrumb topping and moist with tomato sauce. Small white turnips bearing their dark green stems topped the beef ($23). Again, the season was brilliantly captured in smart flavor groupings. A shared glass of La Spinetta "Ca di Pian" Barbera d'Asti 2006 ($9.75) was complex enough and bold enough to partner both the delicious beef and the earthy duck.
A Meyer lemon crostata ($8) defied adornment save transparent slices of preserved lemon and an oval of vanilla mascarpone. Tart and creamy, the dish did exactly what it needed to: provided the perfect finish to a remarkable dining experience. Welcome to chef Katherine Stern, whose menu I intend to explore again and again.
538 Seabright Ave., Santa Cruz
Dinner Tue–Thu 5pm–9pm; Fri–Sat 5–9:30pm; Sun prix fixe 5–8pm. Closed Mon.
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