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[whitespace] Hugh Weiler, Katherine Stalmann
Photograph by George Sakkestad

Better Late Than Never: The food and drink get better with each passing hour at Ristorante Avanti; pictured are Hugh Weiler and Katherine Stalmann.

Late-Night Romance

With a menu of late-night offerings, Ristorante Avanti shows that it's never too late for good wine and good food

By Janet Blaser

WHEN YOU'RE IN LOVE, really in love, there's no hiding it. And you don't want to hide it anyway--the heart sings unabashedly, and you want to share it with anyone and everyone who'll listen. Well, that's kind of what's happened to Hugh Weiler over the years. His love has developed slowly but surely, growing steadily as time passed. A woman? No, mon cheri. Rather, it's the fruit of the vine--red, purple, pink or a lovely pale celadon--that has attracted him so steadfastly.

For the most part, the setting for this torrid affair has been the West Side's Ristorante Avanti. To be sure, Hugh's interest has strayed--you'll also find him filling the glasses behind the bar of the Bonny Doon Vineyards tasting room during the day, and he's been spotted at other wineries as well. But his heart belongs to Avanti, and he knows it.

"There's just fantastically good wine here," he said, "and Paul [the owner] is a fabulous buyer. We really have something for everyone."

An extensive wine list offers about 20 wines by the glass, as well as more than 100 wines by the bottle. Reasonable prices, huge selection, knowledgeable staff. Ambiance? Check. Delicious food? Got it. And now, one more thing--extended hours. You see, the Hugh-formerly-known-as-manager is now your convivial after- hours host, welcoming late-night guests to a charming wine bar that stays open till midnight.

Themed wine tastings, explained on both the menu and a board behind the bar, outline the evening's flight, which highlights specific regions or vintages. A recent flight took us through a handful of chiantis, accompanied by a cheese sampler ($4.95) that offered "something from each mammal," as Hugh explained it--five luscious cheeses that included a Spanish goat's milk Vare, a fine Italian provolone and perhaps my favorite, the Brebiou from France, soft and refreshing. These tasting flights are a wonderful way to learn about wines, said Hugh, and at less than $20 for five two-ounce glasses, you won't make a dent in your pocketbook either.

Avanti After Hours also has a small but sufficient menu of salads, bruschetta, antipasti and desserts. The cheeses are exquisite, though--that's my recommendation. Treat yourself.

Tucked into a rather nondescript strip mall on busy Mission Street, the little Italian restaurant is one of those neighborhood gems you hope you'll find when you travel out of town. As the place has long been a favorite of the UC-Santa Cruz crowd, it's not unusual to find a whole department out to lunch here--literally. Romantics know Avanti as a special destination, and breakfast aficionados in search of the unusual come here for the polenta and frittata, unequaled anywhere else in town.

Avanti After Hours is Wednesday through Saturday, 9pm to midnight. Ristorante Avanti can be found at 1711 Mission St., Santa Cruz, and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner as well. Call 427.0135 for details.

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From the November 17-24, 1999 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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