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This Is Vinal Tap: Soif has got your wine needs covered.

Finds From The Vine

A miniboom is taking shaping up in our fair neck of the woods--get out there and taste for yourselves

By Christina Waters

GLAMOUR, INTELLIGENCE and wine all come together at downtown Santa Cruz' newest reason to live--Soif--a wine and tapas bar embraced by a retail wine shop. What a pleasure it was to take a seat last week at the gleaming copper-topped bar and find none other than Beth Regardz, India Joze' founding matriarch, already well into a decent syrah.

The place was packed with attractive hedonists by my 9pm arrival on its second evening in business and the crew was going full tilt--including owner/designer Patrice Boyle, former GM of Bonny Doon Vineyards, and affable host/sommelier Hugh Weiler, formerly of Avanti. Soif (French for thirst, pronounced swahf) is a sleek, urban vision of "redwood and jade" wall treatment, in Regardz' astute opinion. Not to argue with Beth, currently Cabrillo's queen of computer design, but I describe those walls as cinnabar and celadon. Anyway, you get the idea.

Hanging down from the top of Soif's exceptionally high ceiling are huge mezzaluna chandeliers, and the largest table this side of the Munich Hofbrauhaus holds down the center of the room. Distinctive lighting and exceptional woodwork make this place, as Regardz agreed, Palo Alto sophisticated. From the bar we could watch all the action in the kitchen, where talented Michael Knowles and his crew whip up pretty plates of exciting food. (Regardz' restaurant radar also detected amazingly clean kitchen floors--she gives Soif high marks for fastidiousness.)

Sexy, Sensible Menu

Sexy and sensible, the Soif menu is easy to navigate. Nothing expensive, nothing overlarge. Boyle, as weary as I am of ludicrous portion size, planned it that way. A warm calamari salad I enjoyed showcased two plump, utterly tender squids on a pillow of arugula ($6.50). Pancetta-laced celery reduction pampered the sculptural squid, the greens sparkled with sherry, and a ribbon of shaved celery curled playfully from the center of the plate. You can join your fine wine with something as simple as an assortment of handmade cheeses, or warm olives in extra virgin olive oil. More substantial plates include house-cured wild salmon, bowls of sautéed P.E.I. mussels and a seared California striped bass creation with haricot verts, roma tomatoes and Israeli couscous. All produce is organic, the menu changes weekly and, from what I sampled, this kitchen can cook!

As for wines, oh God. Aficionados will find enlightenment at Soif, where patrons last week worked their way through an international flight of sauvignon blancs from South Africa, Argentina, New Zealand, California and France. In addition to a red and a white flight each evening, 40 wines or so by the glass are available every day, and even better, most are available in 2-ounce pours, as well as 5-ounce glasses, for those like me who really enjoy foraging and comparing, but don't want to overconsume.

A significant 2-ounce pour of full-bodied Vacqueyras from Chateau de Montmiral, 1999, offered plenty of diversion for $3. Eclectic artisan wines from everywhere--including Oregon!--will tempt you away from your boring ol' standby merlot. Soif is at 831.423.2020--on Walnut Avenue, between Pacific Avenue and Pearl Alley. Perfect for after the Nick, or before a dinner at Pearl Alley Bistro.

The wine bar opens nightly at 4pm except Sundays, when it opens at 11am. The retail store, headed by wine consultant Ted Pearson, is open daily from 11am to 6pm. Both will be closed Monday.

News Flash: Greg Reaume just emailed with the news that everybody's favorite ultrafunky coffee emporium, Jahva House, has been bought by some folks who have plans to transform the former machine shop into a club venue, with late-night live music and stronger beverages than those creamy lattes. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, down in sleepy San Juan Bautista, Santa Clara restaurateur Jerry Boone (Mio Vicino founder) has unveiled Don Ciccio's, an Italian eatery with a serious wine cellar. Now you've got another dining destination in our neighboring mission town. Don Ciccio's (107 The Alameda; 831.623.4667) serves dinner six nights (closed Monday) and lunch all day Friday-Sunday.

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From the August 14-21, 2002 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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