Santa Cruz Mountains
We Olive & Wine Bar 112 N. Santa Cruz Ave./Grays Lane, (408) 354-7474. Daily M-Sat 10am-8pm, Sun 10am-6pm; $$. What a great idea to allow customers to sit down and order from a menu a snack or small meal made with the packaged items the shop also sells. Actually tasting the products provides inspiration for using them to whip up something at home for dinner or even a party.
Wine is among the stocked items--so you can also enjoy a taste or two of those currently in stock--and hand-crafted beers are also available on draft and in the bottle. I came here for a browse and early dinner based on the restaurant’s reputation. Seating is in the back of the store, either inside at a bar or at separate tables, or outside in a landscaped courtyard garden that is pleasant in the area’s generally good weather. The menu features bites (the peppadew African peppers stuffed with salami and goat cheese were cute, colorful, and delicious),
salads (a burrata version prepared with tiny baby arugula was delicious and served with crostini),
and flatbreads (the artichoke-caper with fresh mozzarella, basil, and roasted tomatoes is particularly tasty).
A few panini are also options, and recipes for some of the menu items are available. I tasted four wines, glasses for which were lined up in front of me with numbers matching descriptions on a menu. This was fun. I selected a spicy aromatic Gewurztraminer (2013 Handley, Anderson Valley) and full-bodied, smooth Tempranillo (2012 Bodegas “Viva Yo!”, Paso Robles) as my favorites.
The shop specializes in California extra virgin olive oil from small growers and farmers (all certified by the California Olive Oil Council) but also stocks balsamic vinegar, gourmet foods, and small production wines from throughout the state. You can do an enlightening olive oil and balsamic vinegar tasting for no charge. I tried two versions of white balsamic vinegar--a mild young white version and an older, more colorful and tastier version—and learned that balsamic vinegar comes only from Italy, and that it gets sweeter with age, even in bottles.
Artisan food products sold here include tapenades, mustards, pestos, chocolate and caramel sauces, and unique spreads. The shop also purveys some kitchen and dining accessories, and special events are scheduled. Custom gift baskets are a specialty and can be ordered in person or online.
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images ©2016 Carole Terwilliger Meyers