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[whitespace] Hugh Weiler
Photograph by George Sakkestad

Natural Resource: Hugh Weiler shares his knowledge about the well-stocked wine bar at Ristorante Avanti.

Wine Kingdom

Wine flights inspire at Ristorante Avanti

By Christina Waters

RANGY, BLONDE, irrepressibly upbeat Hugh Weiler is one of the key natural resources of Ristorante Avanti on Santa Cruz' West Side. You'll find Weiler pouring wine, explaining wine, fussing over place settings and making guests feel welcome as they sit and sip or dine at the front counter wine bar. He works with Avanti owner Paul Geise in orchestrating the restaurant's highly popular "wine flights," offerings of five or six wines from the same region, the same variety or the same year.

The flight experience allows wine novices and aficionados alike to taste nuances, compare and contrast, and in general get to know more about wine while they savor Avanti's lively neighborhood ambience.

"I try and share my enthusiasm for the wines," Weiler says modestly, "and I believe that Avanti is the best place for finding exciting wines." Part of the reason is that the wines-by-the-glass listing each week. And every two weeks a new grouping of wines is gathered for showcasing as the featured flight.

"The time of year can dictate why a given selection is chosen," Weiler explains. "For example, the new dolcettos just came out, and so we put them in the current flight. And next month, the white burgundies will be released." And that means regulars will be treated to a new selection of wines, and novices are in for a treat.

"It's a grand learning experience," says Avanti's barkeep, who notes that the evening's cheese platter is usually keyed to the wine flight. "We'll be matching Portuguese wines with Portuguese cheese next week," he reveals. "After all, these were the cheeses made to go with these wines in the first place." Weiler, who arrived in Santa Cruz a dozen years ago, has been involved in restaurant, brewpub and wine-tasting room operations for the past decade. That expertise--plus his "contagious enthusiasm"--works its magic Wednesday through Saturday evenings at Avanti. Stop by and let him introduce you to your new favorite wine. Avanti, 1711 Mission St., Santa Cruz, 831.427.0135.

Wild Kingdom

Wild chanterelles, boletes and all those other delicacies that make the hearts of gourmet mycologists beat faster are currently filling the wet forest floors of the Santa Cruz Mountains. All the better for gathering and turning into memorable meals, such as next week's "Wild Wine & Mushroom Affair"--a food and wine collaboration involving Dr. David Bruce and his winery, the Fungus Federation of Santa Cruz and Chef Lynn Sheehan of Sand Rock Farm Inn. "Wine-pairing dinners are my favorite part of being a chef," Sheehan, a California Culinary Academy graduate, admitted last week. "I taste through the suggested wines with the winemaker, then create dishes to specifically complement the wines."

The dinner begins with salad of medallions of rabbit with chanterelle duxelle and roasted fennel dressed with toasted hazelnut vinaigrette, served with estate chardonnays, 1995 and 1998 vintages. Next comes Moroccan spiced tombo tuna and red wine-roasted wild mushroom salad, served with two David Bruce Russian River Valley Pinot Noirs, 1994 and 1998. After a course of Matsutake broth with acorn squash, grilled escarole and Nameko mushroom clusters served with an estate pinot noir 1997, Sheehan plans a crowning course of porcini-dusted breast of squab with hedgehog mushroom ragout, joined by a 1996 estate syrah. Dessert involves a "Treasure Box" with Truffled Chocolate Cream paired with a 1995 Petite Syrah, Shell Creek Vineyard. God help us!

That's five courses, seven wines, $90 per person all inclusive: contact David Bruce Winery immediately--408.354.4214--to place your reservations. The winery is at 21439 Bear Creek Road, above Los Gatos.

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From the February 21-28, 2001 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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