Photograph by Denise Vivar
Gods of wine: Smiles from the attentive and gracious waitstaff belie a devilish twinkle in the eye anticipating the glut of sensous delights on each plate and in each glass.
The Mad Seduction of Italy
In Vito Veritas grants us moderns an introduction to the Dionysian festivals of yore
By Denise Vivar
The thing that attracts me most to Italy, coming in a close second after art, of course, is the taking of meals. But the seduction begins even before the fork touches the plate, before the menu stirs your appetite, even before you cross the threshold of the restaurant. I enjoy the entreaties from the hosts calling from doorways, greeting you in the street, enticing you to come. "Entri prego," sit. "Sieda" and have some wine. "Abbia un vetro di vino." Indeed all over the Mediterranean, from various tavernas, trattorias, cantinas and bistros, the touts tempt you with the promise of paradise on a plate.
Cradled in this covenant I came to embrace the raw. Or more palatably put, carpaccio. I dream of carpaccio--heavenly slivers of supremely seasoned raw beef melting in the mouth. Venetian carpaccio is a tough act to follow, but tucked away near the theater in Scotts Valley I have found chef and owner Luca Rubino's In Vino Veritas. In Vino Veritas--In wine there is truth, and the truth is that on this night of the full moon I returned to Signore Rubino's for the carpaccio.
My friend Michael and I entered through the front door, which immediately opens out onto the entire dining room and grants a full view into the bustling kitchen. We were greeted by rich aromas and a convivial Italian host, then whisked to our table in the corner against walls adorned with trompe l'oeil illusions of rolling hills flecked with cypress.
While I browsed the menu, orchestrating an evening around the guest of honor, the carpaccio, Michael quickly navigated through the soups, salads, pasta and land and sea choices and made some very savory suggestions. Our waiter came by and narrated the evening's specials down to each ingredient, an impressive show of memory and attention to detail. He was also knowledgeable, and shared with us the art of making carpaccio--how the fillet is roasted to a mere 120 degrees, then frozen, and sliced razor thin.
We of course started with the carpaccio ($10.95), and the starter delivered the goods. Each bite was a beautifully crafted symphony of texture and flavor--the beef nearly evanescing in the mouth, warmed with fruity olive oil and a hint of lemon juice, ripe sweet parmesan answered by the delicate salt of the caper and a light crunch of red onion. It was almost too much. But then: The plate wiped clean, our appetites fully engaged, we moved on to the second course.
We chose the simple beet salad ($10.95), a colorful mix of bite-size pieces of roasted organic beets and quartered hard-boiled eggs over greens dressed with vinaigrette. The beets were cooked to a perfect tenderness and the eggs swimming in beet juice took on a lovely color. The greens offered a nice counterpoint to the texture in this humble and healthy salad.
For the third course Michael ordered the rabbit and couscous ($19.95), and it turned out to be our favorite of the two entrees. A mixture of diced celery, carrot and onions simmered in a red wine and vinegar reduction generously bathed two handsome leg quarters, which were accompanied by breaded and fried fennel and zucchini and a few wedges of roasted herbed potato. The sauce was a hit--rich, not too sweet or overpowering and complementary to both the vegetables and the rabbit, which was tender and mild, not gamey as some rabbit can be. Although the couscous was a little dry for my taste, Michael enjoyed the roasted texture and flavor of the small grains, and it was much improved with a little of the wine and vinegar reduction.
I paired my papparadelle al ragu d'agnello ($17.95) with the 2005 Tobin James Zinfandel ($9.00), which had a full fruity body and low tannin. The lamb ragu had well-married complex flavors and tender bits of ground lamb from hours of simmering, and the unique pairing of mint, orange zest and tomato brought freshness to this very decent sauce. The pappardelle was particularly wide, which encouraged some clumping, but there was more than enough pasta for the sauce.
The menu is well balanced, with a variety of choices in homemade pastas, organic produce, shellfish, free-range chicken, grass-fed beef and wild fish whenever possible. Combined with the attentive staff and inviting ambience, In Vino Veritas is truly a Dionysian celebration.
In Vino Veritas
Address: 230 Mt. Hermon Road, Suite G, Scotts Valley
Hours: Breakfast, lunch, dinner 9am-10pm Mon-Fri, 8am-10pm Sat-Sun.
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