Extra Bite: Through the door

Last week, my column included the highlights of my visit to The Cellar Door up in Santa Cruz. Here’s an Extra Bite, with in-depth look at our delicious dinner, complete with some mouth-watering photos of new chef Ryan Shelton’s cuisine.

As you read in this week’s column, my friends and I took our occasional supper club on the road last week. Heading up to Bonny Doon Vineyard for dinner at the Cellar Door. The Cellar Door has a new chef—Ryan Shelton—but our visit had actually been several weeks in the making. For a couple months now, one of our supper club cohorts had been urging us to make the trek to the bay’s northern shores for dinner at the Cellar Door—and we weren’t disappointed.

The fingerling potatoes were flavorful, with hints of smoky bacon and spicy aioli.

We started with two orders of the smoked fingerling potatoes, served potted with some aioli and chives ($6). The potatoes were smoky and the chives added a subtle bit of bite.

There weren't many takers for the boquerones at our table, but those of us brave enough to try them thought they were delicious.

Only a few of us were brave enough to try the Spanish white boquerones ($6). These little anchovies were prepared in vinegar and lemon, so they had a nice touch of acid to cut the fishy taste.

Against my protestations, we had two orders of the Castelvetrano olives ($6). I’m not a big fan of olives—as far as I’m concerned they’re best enjoyed as a decoration in a martini. But those that don’t have such an aversion to olives enjoyed them, seasoned with roasted garlic and Meyer lemon.

The kale chips were crispy and salty.

We got two orders of the kale chips, served with Parmesan churros ($9). Sure, these were a little pricey for $9, but they were so good. (And one of my friends pointed out afterwards that while the preparation seems simple and straightforward, it’s actually pretty difficult to make kale chips, given the amount of kale required to dry into chips.)

The chips were crispy, served with savory churros—the dough was rolled in Parmesan cheese instead of sugar and cinnamon. They were a little doughy, but otherwise a nice contrast in flavors to the kale.

The flatbread--really a pizza--was a nice appetizer for sharing.

We also ordered the cured Arctic char flatbread ($14) for the table. This was basically a pizza topped with Arctic char and capers, with a delicious dill sauce to drizzle on top.

The circulated egg was probably my favorite bite of the entire evening.

The Glaum Ranch circulated egg—served over a purée of butternut squash with sage and brown butter ($10)—was easily my favorite dish of the entire evening, and several of my friends echoed that sentiment.

There were a lot of vegetarian items on the menu, like this fried tofu.

The selection of entrees was rather limited tonight—just three entrees were available. We were pleased to see a number of vegetarian-friendly options, like a fried tofu dish.

The meat selections might have been limited, but the duck was quite tasty.

For my entree, I ordered a carnivore’s delight, the lacquered duck—sliced duck breast served over slices of Cara Cara oranges and radicchio ($20). The duck was perfectly tender and the flavors of the meat were accented by bites of sweet oranges and bitter radicchio. The dish paired nicely with the 2008 Syrah Le Pousseur 2008 ($8/glass).

We managed to try all three of the desserts over the course of our meal.

The cheese plate included a delicious selection, including a couple cheeses I'd never tried before.

We actually found ourselves sampling the cheese plate during our first course. The cheese plate came with three cheeses, fresh fruits and toast ($10), and was better prepared and more thoughtfully conceived than most. It also introduced us to what might our new favorite cheese—Teahive cheese from the Beehive Cheese Company. It’s a cheddar soaked in tea, which gives a nice contrast to the sharp cheese.

The banana beignets had caught our eye before we even started our meal.

Since the dessert menu is printed on the dinner menu, we knew from the moment we sat down we’d be ordering the banana beignets ($8). The question became how many orders of beignets would our group of eight need. The answer? Two. The beignets were small little balls of dough, served with banana and passionfruit on the side. I wish the banana flavor had been more prominent in the beignets themselves, but otherwise, this was a lovely dessert. I especially liked the tangy acidic bite of passionfruit.

The citrus curd was tangy and sweet.

As good as the banana beignets were, the real standout from dessert was the citrus curd ($8). Prepared with fruits from Twin Girls farm, the curd was paired with a touch of raspberry and a dollop of espresso ice cream. I’ve found the combination of citrus and espresso a little difficult to master—but this was a winning combination.

The service was appropriately attentive, but reserved. The servers were happy to help us when we needed something, but they also let us enjoy our dinner out. And even though we were at times a little raucous and lingered well past closing, they never made us feel unwelcome.

Despite the rain outside, this dinner lifted our spirits. I’m intrigued by what chef Ryan Shelton has in store for this restaurant. Already, he’s planning on changing the name—as of April 1, it will be Le Cigare Volante. Whatever it’s called, this restaurant has skyrocketed to the top of my list of favorites in Santa Cruz.

The Cellar Door is located at Bonny Doon Vineyard at 328 Ingalls St. in Santa Cruz. 425-6771. www.bonnydoonvineyard.com/cellar_door_cafe.

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