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FLAVOR FORWARD: Chef Santos Majano has brought new sparkle to Soif.

Soif's Up!

Never better, Soif's menu perfectly matches the diversity of showcase wines

By Christina Waters

IT SEEMS that the entire culinary world is fair game for the talents of Soif's new chef, Santos Majano. The American South, the Middle East, France, California, Spain—all figure prominently in the menu Majano has orchestrated for the downtown wine bar. We enjoyed some of his sensitivity to the fresh and the seasonal at a splendid and completely satisfying dinner last week.

Starting with tasting pours (2 ounce) of a crisp, gemlike Diel Riesling 2007 ($5.50) and an appealing Slovenian furmint 2008 ($4.25), we dredged some francese in fruity olive oil and began to construct dinner. First came a small plate of lamb meatballs dusted with paprika and crowned with tiny daikon sprouts in an ivory pool of pureed almonds ($5). Always a favorite house appetizer, this dish has acquired new kick under Majano's touch. A large appetizer of sautéed Louisiana shrimp knocked us out ($12). A quartet of succulent shrimp topped a white bean salad laced with cucumbers, sprigs of frisée and thin ribbons of radicchio. The result was brilliant, cool and sophisticated, especially with the crisp white wines.

Next we switched to red wine and tastes of a musky, intriguing cabernet sauvignon blend from Lebanon's Chateau Musar 2000 ($6.75) and another of Philippe Faury St.-Joseph Syrah—a perfect partner with my quail and the cheese course to follow.

The delicate seafood stew ($21), bulging with local halibut, opulent Gulf prawns, sea scallops and fingerling potatoes sliced into long ribbons, was a sensuous creation that showed off the chef's confident balance of spicing and ingredients. The intertwining of shellfish broth, white wine and tomatoes bathed every bite with enhancing—never overwhelming—flavors.

But the quail was downright brilliant. Astride a tweed cushion of wild rice, flecked with a classic mirepoix dice of onions, carrots and celery, the pan-roasted little bird cradled an interior packed with tiny cubed chorizo and potatoes, the heat of one pushed back by the nutty-sweet essence of the other. This inspired pairing of root veggie with spicy sausage gave the needed push to heighten the delicate game. It was a terrific dish and a great value for $20—again, the sort of entree that loves to work against a big-shouldered red wine.

For our final salvo we had saved just enough red wine to accompany generous tastes of five cheeses on the artisan cheese plate ($15). It's true, we might have entered the sweet world of Soif's warm chocolate cake or Meyer lemon tart. But there we were with remaining wine, opened to perfection, and only cheese would do.

So we happily roamed through an Italian Robiola, a dreamy domestic chèvre called Bermuda Triangle, earthy Tallegio, nutty Spanish Mahon and a nondescript blue cheese from New England (probably standing in for the usual house Maytag or Stilton). Apricot cumin marmalade, as well as quince paste and sliced dates, added counterpoint to this splendid way to finish a meal at Soif.

Kudos to chef Santos Majano, who is putting his two-Michelin star background to delicious dazzle.

Soif Wine Bar & Merchants

105 Walnut Ave., Santa Cruz


Mon–Thu 5–10pm; Fri–Sat 5–11pm; Sun 4–10pm

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