[Metroactive Dining]

[ Dining Index | Santa Cruz | Metroactive Home | Archives ]

[whitespace] Marion Hollins Swing Shift: A portrait of founder and golf champ Marion Hollins hangs in the Hollins House.

Photograph by Stephen Laufer

Hollins Daze

Vintage surroundings and an exceptional chef transform Marion Hollins' hideaway into a tasty landmark

By Christina Waters

Ann and I have sampled more than our fair share of dinners at Hollins House together over the years. But last week we had to admit that we were in the presence of something close to culinary genius.

Well, of course we were--Pete Dressen, formerly of Theo's, is now finessing the menus at the historic mansion on the Pasatiempo greens. Seated in the former living room of golfing guru Marion Hollins--a woman who entertained Olympic champions and movie stars alike at her Santa Cruz Mountains resort--we got comfy in front of a blazing fireplace.

A bottle of stupendous 1999 Storrs Merlot ($35) blew away my misgivings about this grape once and for all. A treat from the kitchen arrived, a biteful of mahi mahi ceviche on a nano-taco. Great opener.

I anticipated culinary dazzle and I wasn't disappointed. When was the last time that salad--not an obligatory bunch of green stuff, but an actual, thoughtful arrangement of well-dressed lettuces--was included in the price of an entree? It was here. But that didn't stop us from ordering what turned out to be show-stopping starters. Mine was a molten, thyme-scented creation of serrano ham and chanterelle mushrooms in an eggy cheese gratin ($10). Large enough to share, it was so wonderful I could have made an entire meal of this single dish.

Ann's choice was edible poetry that left her momentarily speechless. Lighter than Winona Ryder's fingers was a miniature goat cheese soufflé (from Pescadero's Harley Farms), which arrived surrounded by a necklace of baby mâche lettuces and tiny roasted beets in whiter shades of rose ($8). The voluptuous little soufflé managed to show off its tangy goat cheese pedigree without overwhelming our taste buds. Translation: it was easy to consume every last trace of this baby and still have plenty of room left for the main course.

And plenty of room was needed to address our full-figured entrees. Two crimson slices of prime beef filet arrived on a cushion of--holy comfort food!--creamed spinach ($26). Beneath the buttery beef was a layer of fork-tender braised oxtail, echoing the flavor of the filet in a deeper baritone. Thumbnail gnocchi dotted the plate, picking up luscious oxtail juices. Here were meat and potatoes fresh from some designer Oz. The filet was great, but my roasted Liberty Farms duck was fantastic. Fanned out over a bed of intense duck confit, the rare duck breast had been topped with tart huckleberries ($23). Small winter root vegetables added piquant textural and flavor contrast, and we served ourselves long spears of asparagus from a side platter. The Storrs Merlot proved the ideal match with both dishes. Oh, and did I mention the lovely house salad preceding our entrees? Delicious lettuces bathed in balsamic vinaigrette and flecked with Roquefort and walnuts.

Not that we required anything more, but coffee seemed like the right idea, and with that, well, dessert was required. So we bypassed warm Scharffen Berger chocolate cake (perhaps foolishly) and shared a pretty brown butter and almond cake ($6) that might have been stupendous had the cake been served warm. But even without temperature contrast, the cake's crown of caramel ice cream and slices of roasted pears proved deeply satisfying. A sky full of stars met us at the huge front door and visions of a return visit to Pete Dressen's kitchen at Hollins House sent us contentedly home. After our memorable experience last week up at the house that Marion Hollins built, I suggest you offload any lingering impressions you might have of this lovely dining room being too formal or too old-fashioned for comfort--and add the restaurant at Pasatiempo to your short list of remarkable, romantic dining possibilities.

Hollins House Restaurant
Address 20 Clubhouse Road, Santa Cruz, at Pasatiempo Golf Club
Phone 831.459.9177
Hours Dinner from 5:30 Wed-Sat, from 4-8pm Sundays
Ambience *** Formality, without stuffiness, is softened by gracious attitudes, solid wine list and fine staff.
Service *** Excellent staff, attentive, smart and unpretentious
Cuisine ***1/2 With chef Dressen in the kitchen, Hollins House is a serious dining destination.
Overall A landmark with a powerhouse kitchen--reason to get dressed up

[ Santa Cruz | Metroactive Central | Archives ]

From the December 18-24, 2002 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Maintained by Boulevards New Media.