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Tricky treat: Chocolates this good are hard to find.


Black Ridge Vineyard and Jennifer Ashby's crafted chocolates.

By Amber Turpin

Compared with some of the historic wineries and vineyards dotting the Santa Cruz mountainsides, Black Ridge Vineyard is just a baby. The property off Black Road, near Lexington Reservoir, is a relative newcomer to our appellation. Although the land was originally planted with grapes during the mid-1800s, it later became home to a prune orchard and then a Christmas tree farm. In 1999, partners Jim Landes and Fred Falterstack replanted on 22 acres, creating what is now a magic pocket of winegrowing wonder. The 2006 viogner, the very first Black Ridge release, garnered attention and awards. Estate-grown fruit reflects the terroir of this particular property in each of the current releases, from the balanced 2006 pinot noir to the robust 2006 San Andreas red blend. The 2005 cabernet sauvignon, made in a leaner bordeaux style, will be the last single varietal cab. Find the wines at Vinocruz, Vino Prima, Clouds, Pleasure Point Wine & Spirits and Shopper's Corner, or visit Black Ridge when it opens up for its first Passport weekend on Nov. 15. (

After walking by Pacific Thai in downtown Santa Cruz more times than I can count, the sign touting the new addition of cocktails finally enticed me to enter. Han Asian Vodka is a polished rice-infused barley-based spirit that supposedly retains the amino acids found in rice throughout the quadruple distillation process. Pacific Thai is using it for some exotic specialty drinks like "the Flamango," with Thai chile-infused vodka and mango. I sampled the "Thai chan," an adult version of Thai iced tea that cuts the sickly sweet viscosity of the popular beverage. This is also the place you might find edible art master Petcharee Tamawong carving various fruits and vegetables (displayed out front from time to time). She also does demonstrations, teaches classes and can supply show-stopping conversation pieces for your next shindig. Find her at

With a background in baking and a Culinary Institute of America degree in pastry arts, Jennifer Ashby dreamed of starting something on her own. Upon graduation she was able to use the "chocolate room" at Heather's Patisserie as an initial laboratory, and her small business was born. Giving birth to twins led to some downtime on the candy-making front, but now Ashby's back with Ashby Confections, a myriad of mostly organic artisan chocolates, truffles, pÔtÚs de fruit, marshmallows, nut brittles and a brand new line of embellished chocolate bars. She's also introducing a less familiar candy, explaining, "I just don't think there's enough nougat in this country." A research trip through Europe has given Ashby inspiration to create traditional confections with a nod to contemporary tastes, for example by using local farmers market ingredients like Windmill Farms strawberries ("his strawberries are the best!") as well as fine imported basics. She recently switched her base chocolate to Felchlin, a high-end Swiss product that uses a single-varietal Criollo bean from Sur del Lago, Maracaibo, Venezuela. "I was using good chocolate before, but this is great," she says. Find her creations at the source at Heather's Patisserie in Aptos in a slick new highly visible case up front, or go online at

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