Quick Take:

For its inaugural winemaker’s dinner Oct. 19, Lago di Como prepared a six-course Sardinian feast paired with wines made from native varietals by Sardinia’s Argiolas Winery. It was the first event since the 11-year-old restaurant relaunched with new co-owners, an updated menu and a fresh vibe, and the beginning of a regular dinner series featuring regional Italian cuisines and wines.

Last week, I sat down to a meal that began with pearls of caviar shimmering on top of gold leaf and ended by eating smoke-scented suckling pig with my hands.

It was at Lago di Como’s first themed wine-pairing event on Oct. 19, and as far as local winemaker dinners go, they nailed it. Owners Giovanbattista Spanu, Matteo Robecchi and Lindsay Rodriguez hosted Sardinian winemaker Antonio Argiolas of Argiolas Winery with a six-course feast that celebrated the cuisine of this storied island off the coast of Italy. From the fruitful coast to the rugged interior dotted with sheep and ancient soil that produces world-renowned wines, Sardinia came alive with each course.

Winemaker dinners are fairly common in Santa Cruz County, but I rarely write about them, for two reasons. First, it’s a deceptively tricky format to get right — creating, pairing and delivering multiple high-end courses to sometimes dozens of guests at once is hard to do. As a result, the events often overpromise and underdeliver for the high price point. And it’s no fun to tell readers about a great party that they missed. I hope you’ll forgive me this time, because this was just the first of many themed evenings to come at Lago di Como — and if the restaurateurs can keep up the pace they set with this inaugural dinner, it’s worth making a reservation.

Lago di Como aims to host different Italian winemakers and create regional feasts paired with their wines as often as once a month. Being a regular guest will help you snag a seat. For this event, the team circulated a flier advertising the dinner at the restaurant. The $150 tickets nearly sold out before Lago di Como shared the news to a wider audience on its Instagram account. (Disclosure: Lago di Como gave Lookout a free ticket to the event.)

Nearly a year after the restaurant relaunched with new co-owners, a regional menu, a renewed commitment to hospitality and an entirely fresh vibe, the success of this first dinner cements Lago di Como as a major player in Santa Cruz County’s culinary scene.

Sardinian flavors like pecorino, fresh seafood, fregola pasta and bottarga, cured fish roe, are already sprinkled throughout the restaurant’s typical menu — Spanu’s family is from Sardinia and Robecchi once owned a restaurant there — so when an opportunity to pair a meal with Argiolas wines came up, it felt like a perfect fit.

The meal opened with hand-cut tartar of Mediterranean sea bass crowned with slivers of gold leaf and sturgeon caviar, paired with a brisk vermentino that washed over the palate like a chilly wave of seawater. Next, a rich, almost whiskey-like rosato matched the smoked Sardinian sheep’s milk cheese in a traditional lasagna made with paper-thin carasau bread rather than pasta.

Then, poached tuna belly on a vibrant sauce of peas, mint and pecorino, paired with a well-structured old-vine vermentino brimming with stone fruit and jasmine. This wine, made from vines planted in 1975, is not available in the U.S. but is one of Argiolas’ favorites.

Argiolas’ grandfather established his family’s winery in the 1930s, and it is now considered to be one of the most esteemed in Sardinia. The critical success of its turriga, a blend of Sardinian varietals with cannonau at the forefront, put Sardinian winemaking on the map when it was first released in the early 1990s. Argiolas humbly introduced each wine and seemed pleasantly surprised at the crowded 60-seat dining room in front of him. “That winery is a big deal, but he’s a Sardo at heart. That’s how they are, just humble and genuine,” Rodriguez said.

  • Lago di Como co-owner Giovanni Spanu poses with a roast suckling pig, a culturally important Sardinian food.
  • The first course: a Mediterranean sea bass tartar with sturgeon caviar.
  • A course of poached tuna belly with caper berries and pickled onion.
  • The meal was paired with wines from Sardinia's Argiolas Winery.

Guests received the first red wine with the fourth course, a soft, earthy blend of predominantly monica di Sardegna, an ancient varietal of unknown origin. Argiolas calls this table wine “our daily red,” but it’s a perfect match with the culurgione, a chewy potato dumpling stuffed with a truffled sheep’s milk cheese and sage, drizzled with truffle oil and finished with — yes — more shaved black truffle.

Then, the main event — Robecchi and Spanu brought two roasted suckling pigs into the room with clear pride to a delighted crowd. Soon, the rhythmic thwacking of a cleaver joined the din of the dining room, and plates of tender, smoky flesh and glazed, cracker-like pork skin circulated among the guests.

Whole roasted suckling pig is the most important Sardinian food, Argiolas explained, and is usually eaten at special occasions. The moment when he brought the pig out to share with family and friends, and cut it in front of everyone, was chef Robecchi’s favorite moment of the evening. “We started fancy, but as human beings we love the comfort of familiar dishes,” he said.

About 2 seconds after I started eating, chef Spanu came over and firmly but good-naturedly slapped my fork away. “You have to eat it with your hands,” he said — then refilled my plate with more choice pieces and refilled my glass with a robust, luscious 2018 turriga aged in French oak. He left the bottle on the table.

This is what I love about coming to Lago di Como — not only is it an outstanding dining experience, it’s fun.

Lago di Como is located at 21490 East Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz, open 5-9:30 p.m. daily except Tuesday. Call 831-454-8257 or visit lagodicomoristorante.com for reservations and more information.

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Lily Belli is the food and drink correspondent at Lookout Santa Cruz. Over the past 15 years since she made Santa Cruz her home, Lily has fallen deeply in love with its rich food culture, vibrant agriculture...