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Fore Score

[whitespace] Jeff Huff
Robert Scheer

Huff Enough: Hollins House chef Jeff Huff manages a near-perfect menu, with entrees like a breast of chicken with mushroom triangoli.

The country club that Marion Hollins built spreads down toward the ocean from the charming dining room that bears her name

By Christina Waters

HOW REFRESHING TO encounter a sophisticated menu that isn't afraid to acknowledge the carnivorous side of New American cuisine. Not only is Hollins House one of the most gracious dining rooms in the area, it's equipped with ace chef Jeff Huff and a menu that spans the meaty horizon from filet mignon and braised lamb shank to Yankee pot roast and even roast saddle of elk.

Perhaps it's the presence of the Pasatiempo Country Club, Jack suggested, nodding to the manicured lawns outside the former drawing room of Marion Hollins' mansion. After all, he mused wickedly, don't you work up quite an appetite golfing all day?

Perhaps he had a point, Ann agreed as our young waiter offered me a taste of an excellent Saintsbury 1995 Pinot Noir ($37). Having never actually seen a golfer work up a sweat, I just let them speculate and savored the soothing view.

A nice tradition here is the opportunity to enjoy a sampler of three appetizers, this evening involving roast venison, grilled salmon cakes and chickpea and corn fritters ($10). We all loved the way the rich salmon flavor went with the plummy pinot, though I found myself especially taken by the moist little fritters and their relish of peppers, smoked duck and spiced black lentils. Both more than made up for the overcooked state of the sliced venison.

Though our basket of wonderful, thick focaccia didn't arrive until after our appetizers were finished, it was in time to accompany our salads.

Salads are exquisite at Hollins House, where exceptional baby greens play a starring role. Somehow the chef had managed to locate really ripe, sweet tomatoes to adorn Jack's appealing toss of lettuces, crisp pancetta and garlic croutons in a buttermilk vinaigrette ($6.50). Ann's house salad--laced with micro-strips of sun-dried mango and walnuts, and bathed in a tart orange/basil vinaigrette--made us all believe that summer actually might be just around the corner.

As the dining room began to fill up with prom night couples--all impossibly young and dressed to thrill--we began to wish for a bit more light by which to admire our sculpturally designed entrees.

Ann's plate of roasted duckling--the breast meat all fanned out on a pomegranate molasses sauce, the leg succulent and tender--arrived with nice sides of pilaf, tomatoes and steamed asparagus ($18.50). Another entree of triangular wild mushroom ravioli--striped with tomatoey crimson (barely detectable in the dim light)--came on a dramatic black plate, a bouquet of pristine sea scallops in the center. The scallops, though moist and tender, were a bit too pristine and could have used some quick sautéing rather than a flavor- minimizing steam bath.

Jack was still struggling to see his dinner. The architectural wedges of textbook-perfect seared ahi--crusted in tempura batter and served with a wasabi and sesame vinaigrette--appeared to soar upward from the plate ($19.25). It was a huge portion, allowing us each to taste and sigh with appreciation. Paired with the fine ahi was black Thai rice accompanied by something like bulgar, and more of the evening's steamed asparagus.

The lights on the wharf were twinkling in the distance as we finished sampling each other's dinners, agreeing that the ravioli lightly napped in lemony beurre blanc was the standout.

A dessert sampler ($10) allowed us to navigate our way from an almond zabaglione over strawberries and olallieberries to a very unusual chocolate cake laced with raspberry vinegar and cinnamon, then on to a wedge of classic, not-too-sweet tiramisu.

The old-fashioned feel of the Hollins House dining room and the timeless flavors of the meal had won us over once again.

Hollins House
Address: 20 Clubhouse Rd, Pasatiempo, SC
Phone: 459-9177
Hours: Wed-Sat. 5:30-9pm
Chef: Jeff Huff
Cuisine: California/nouvelle American
Entrees: $13.50-$27.50
Service: ** 1/2 Helpful and attentive, though the recitation of dishes could be streamlined.
Ambiance: *** 1/2 A lovely dining room, Hollins House offers a fine view and some real sense of regional charm.
Cuisine: *** Excellent food, presented with some flair, showcases some of Chef Huff's expertise.
Overall: A local treasure, Hollins House offers fine dining in a setting to match.

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From the May 14-20, 1998 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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