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TASTEMAKERS: Let them sample deliciousness itself—or just read about it.

Gifts in Good Taste

Gourmet gifts for bon vivants

By Christina Waters

FOR THE FINICKY gastronome on your list, nothing will do but the best. In a word—wine! That's right, vino, especially something with a concept behind it. Here's an example. You're going to a holiday party at your friend's house. That friend is watching her budget these days and has been languishing on a steady diet of cheapo Argentine wines from Trader Joe's. Brighten her day with a very nicely made bottle of pinot noir from the Santa Cruz Mountains—say, something in the key of licorice and plums from Windy Oaks, Vine Hill, Alfaro and/or Storrs. These will run you anywhere from $30 to $45, but Christmas comes but once a year, no?

For the connoisseur, nothing beats the bracing new compendium of wit, wisdom and wine-geek esoterica from oeno-provocateur Randall Grahm, Been Doon So Long ((UC Press; $34.95 hardback). This is the ultimate glamour gift for anyone who fancies fine wines and the gurus who make them—rife with handsome illustrations and well-worded confessions, it's a pretty good bet for literary types as well.

While we're on the subject, a terrific stocking stuffer might be one of the splits of Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard varietals made by award-winning winemaker Jeff Emery. He's got a choice selection of at least eight different wines available in small bottles and priced from $12 to $25 at his 334 Ingalls St. winery. And if it's a luscious bottle of wine you need that goes with absolutely everything you or your mother-in-law or your boyfriend might be serving, then look no further than SCMV's 2007 Grenache, made from 100-year-old vines and loaded with opulence for $17.

Coffee beans, locally roasted by the extraordinarily discerning Manthri Srinath of Lulu Carpenter's/ (1545 Pacific Ave., downtown Santa Cruz) are a surefire way to light up the holidays for the java junkie who's been nice. In the $9–$10-per-pound ballpark, these aromatic beans range from single-origin, chocolatey Yemen to pungently acidic Rwandan and Ethiopian, as well as popular blends. Lulu's packages beans from all over the world, and the flavor diversity is amazing. These beans are available all over our local retail culture, as well as at the chic Lulu's and Coffee Cat coffeehouses.

For the hostess on your list, consider something that makes a gorgeous holiday statement—a gold- or silver-adorned slump glass platter from Annieglass ($66–$90). The gleaming snowflake motif adds even more value to these already dramatic platforms for appetizers and entrees. Actually, every single item in the downtown Santa Cruz emporium (110 Cooper St.), from plates to goblets to opulent serving bowls, cries out "killer gift."

While we're talking about serving ware, the handmade, brilliantly decorated and glazed line of porcelain bowls by Jenny Morten at Mar Monte Studio are serious gifts for serious foodies. Sensuous enough to exist all on their own, Morten's new ovoid bowls offer joyful experiences for the hand and eye. Jewel-like yet utterly functional (even dishwasher-friendly), they are priced happily at $15–$85, and are available at 168 Mar Monte Ave., La Selva Beach, open this coming Saturday from 2 to 5pm (call 831.688.5173 for more information).

Cookbooks and culinary tomes make terrific gifts for those who love to tinker in the kitchen and for those who get no closer to a stove than watching Rachael Ray stirring up "nibbly bits" on the Food Channel. Consider giving the classic of continental cuisine, the mother ship of serious cookery, Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child (available in hardcover and paperback). To which Santa would say, "Bon appetit!"

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