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Roudon the Home Team: Selections from Roudon-Smith Winery will be part of the local vintages served at the Winemaker Dinner.

Reds, Whites and Ribs

Local winemakers get festive at the Scotts Valley Hilton; eyeing the barbecue at Mike's Soul Food

By Christina Waters

JUNE SMITH emails to tell me all about the upcoming Winemaker Dinner with Roudon-Smith Winery, Silver Mountain Vineyards and Hallcrest Vineyards, happening Nov. 29 at the spacious Scotts Valley Hilton. The affair gets you cozy with some top winemakers, including Bob Roudon, John Schumacher of Hallcrest and Jerry O'Brien of Silver Mountain.

"We thought about making a donation to the disaster-relief efforts," June told me, "but decided that our own community's needs were still important." A portion of winemaker dinner proceeds will benefit Court Appointed Special Advocates of Santa Cruz. Even though June and Jim Smith will probably join their 8-month-old grandson Phoenix in Hawaii that week, you don't have to miss this opportunity to give your own kitchen a break between holidays.

Starting at 6pm, participants will sample some vintage winemaker selections with passed appetizers. Dinner begins at 7pm with a first course of red pepper and crab bisque, paired with Roudon-Smith 2000 Chardonnay, Monterey. A second course of risotto will be joined by a Silver Mountain '98 Chardonnay from Silver Mountain's estate organic vineyard.

Choose from three entree/wine options--grilled sirloin with black bean ancho chile potatoes/Silver Mountain '96 Alloy; Chilean sea bass/Roudon-Smith '99 Chardonnay, Annamaria's Vineyard; or free-range chicken basted with lemon-thyme/Organic Wine Works 2000 Pinot Noir.

To finish off, dessert of chocolate strudel adorned with sauce anglaise will be paired with a rich Hallcrest '92 Cabernet Sauvignon, Beauregard Ranch. Thinking about this menu has made me quite famished for fine locally made wines and some interesting foods specially created to join them.

Make reservations for the Winemaker Dinner by calling 440.1000. Think of it as a delicious research investigation into some of the finer points of local winemaking. Winemakers love to talk about their handiwork. The Scotts Valley Hilton is pretty hard to miss: 6001 La Madrona Dr.

Soul Searching

Having visited busy Mike's Soul Food shortly after it opened a few months back, I thought it would be a good idea to do a revisit. Metro Santa Cruz informant Mike Connor, a rib man from way back, was up for the job.

The place was packed at lunchtime last week. Sure it's a no-frills operation, "but it has a sort of vintage hole-in-the-wall charm," admitted Metro Santa Cruz's Mike. The owner was out greeting folks at the tables--our informant liked that personal touch.

"The food was tasty and satisfying," our Mike said. "I had the sampler plate, which included fried catfish, fried chicken, a pork rib and two sides; I chose fried okra (because I've never had it before) and yams (because I've heard they're the best). I wasn't too jazzed on the okra. The little flavor that it had was overpowered by the fried batter."

It got better. Mike continued: "The catfish was delicious, a light and tender surprise among all that fried food. I put Tabasco on it to pep it up a bit and was glad I did." Mike liked the ribs and yams too: "The meat on the rib was tender and fell easily off the bone. The sauce was tasty yet inconspicuous enough that I could still taste the flavor of the meat. The yams were delicious: juicy, buttery, sweet with brown sugar, sufficiently firm to squish in your mouth."

Mike got pretty carried away with the Soul Food yams. My favorite from another visit was the outstanding corn bread. No wonder the place cooks.

Nice to see the old Manoff's burger joint transformed by the presence of slow-cooked goodness, and it's one of the best shows in town watching these good-looking cooks barbecue out on the patio. Mike's Soul Food, good and soulful. At the corner of Water and Front streets in downtown Santa Cruz.

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

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