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[whitespace] Nicci Tripp Holy Christ, It's the Green Goblin! Run! Oh wait, it's just Nicci Tripp with some tomatoes. Dude, you totally had us.


The Right To Dine

Life, liberty and the pursuit of a seriously fine salmon tartare

By Christina Waters

OUR FOES HALFWAY round the world might be surprised to know that nothing has slowed us down in terms of pursuing our freedom to dine well. And since last Sept. 11, that's what we've done.

While I resent the intrusion on my usual open-armed approach to travel--to spontaneous visits to favorite dining spots unencumbered by nagging doubts about whether that stranger across the parking lot is just a harmless street person or an Al Qaeda operative in search of my particular Honda Accord--Sept. 11 hasn't put me off my game, nor my culinary colleagues in and around the Central Coast.

We've always loved Bistro Laurent (1202 Pine St.; 805.226.8191) in the charming burg of Paso Robles. Powered by chef Laurent Grangien (a young veteran of several top kitchens in Paris), this old brick beauty houses a mighty wine cellar and showcases stunning Euro-California dishes that just get better and better. Sensuous pastas and intricate seafood creations as well as seasonal salads have thrilled us on recent visits.

But two weeks ago, it was a bold appetizer of salmon tartare, festooned with spun, flash-fried beets and organic arugula, that knocked us out. Paired with a complex Merlot Soleil & Terroir from Nichols Winery, it was stunning.

As notable was another entree of rack of venison, served with mashed potatoes topped with a crown of micro pommes frites. The next night, when Laurent was closed, we discovered a very new addition to the growing Paso food scene, Buona Tavola (943 Spring St.; 805.237.0600). Again, a mighty wine listing and food to match, including elegant mezzaluna alfredo and rich Sicilian-style salmon cakes.

So next time you're on the road, headed south, stop by the once-sleepy cow town and surprise your taste buds. While you're in the neighborhood, for sheer visual thrills nothing beats Highway 46 headed west, where you'll find a Bonny Doon Vineyards tasting room. At the top of the crest, you can see Morro Rock in the distance, and about 20 minutes down this beautiful Coast Range road you're at the ocean a few miles from Cambria. Do I need to draw you a map?

Faster than a Speeding Bullet: Ace metal artist Larry Berk, of Creative Cutting Service in Watsonville, is big enough to chuckle at my gaff last column--I got it wrong when singing the praises of the enameled metal grillwork at Café Lola. Berk, who worked on the original Cooper House interior, the Pontiac Grill and tons of other signature spaces in his 35-year Santa Cruz residency, was the actual creator of Lola's sleek cabinets and room dividers, whose persimmon surface was applied by automotive enamel. "The idea of doing the interior in steel was an experiment," said the Man of Steel. An experiment that he admitted "came out really nice." And how. The crisp signage for Lola's (as well as Carpo's) was also done by Berk, who uses high-pressure water jets to cut out his architectural steel designs. The results are as delicious as Lola's food.

Theo's Tomato Squeeze: Chef Nicci Tripp of Theo's will join honcho cuisinartists in Carmel Valley next week at the heirloom TomatoFest. Tripp will be presenting his unforgettable variation on the mighty pomodoro--a rich brulée of foie gras and duck egg with heirloom tomato conserve. He'll join 50 of California's best chefs who've been invited to present their original tomato dishes as just one of the tasty events at this year's 11th annual TomatoFest, on Sept. 15, 12:30 to 4:30pm, at the posh Quail Lodge Resort on Carmel Valley Road. It's probably sold out, but if you wait in line, they'll feed you something involving tomatoes.

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From the September 11-18, 2002 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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