Tramonti owners Lindsay Rodriguez and Matteo Robecchi at their Italian Christmas marker.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Food & Drink

EATERS DIGEST: Tramonti’s Italian Christmas market returns, chocolate for your brain & hoshigaki magic

A walk through the holiday offerings around the county, from lovely persimmons everywhere you look to a cookie hunt in Capitola Village to a wine pop-up in Aptos and a craft pop-up at Beer Thirty in Soquel.

At last, a moody winter morning and some cool, seasonal weather, and a Happy Hanukkah to all who observe. The gift-buying hustle is in full swing, and Wallace Baine and I have been hard at work curating gift suggestions so you can buy local. Check out all six guides and stop stressing about delivery notifications.


Read on to discover a local restaurant’s special Christmas market, a delicious locally-made chocolate bar, a seasonal treat and workshop on how to make it at home, and several festive food-related events to enjoy this weekend.


Some holiday elves at Tramonti Restaurant in Seabright have built a little Italian Christmas market in their outdoor seating area. The small plywood chalet is decorated with nutcrackers, a Christmas tree and a train set racing through a winter wonderland. Inside, it’s stocked with important Italian treats, all in beautiful packaging — advent calendars with Italian chocolates, pandoro with candied black cherries, balsamic vinegar from Modena, Sicilian lemon marmalade, imported pastas, wine and much more.

There are also several panettone, the Italian holiday sweetbread, including one in a vibrantly decorated tin designed by Italian luxury fashion house Dolce & Gabbana. Beginning this weekend, treats from their own in-house pastry chef, Alessio Casagrande, will also be available.

The Italian Christmas market outside Tramonti in Seabright.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Husband-and-wife team chef Matteo Robecchi and manager Lindsay Rodriguez are the masterminds behind the holiday market. Rodriguez says they came up with the idea last year, when the restaurant was completely closed. “Rather than having a sad feeling in the restaurant, we wanted to give people a sense of normalcy and cheer them up,” says Rodriguez. It was such a hit that they’ve brought it back for a second holiday season.

Looking for the perfect local gifts but aren’t sure where to look? My colleague Wallace Baine and I have you covered. This week, we’ve been hard at work curating a series of gift guides that focus on products made by local artisans. We’ve been astounded by the incredible, beautiful things being made here in Santa Cruz County.

The best part is that in addition to all the many benefits we all reap from spending our dollars in our community, you have the added advantage of not worrying about shipping. You can read them all here, including my guides on drinkable gifts, edible gifts and gifts for the kitchen and home.

Eat this

The Brain Power chocolate bar from Santa Cruz company Yes Cacao is one of the more unusual chocolates I’ve had in recent memory, and also one of the most delicious. The bar inside the bright orange package is a rich, golden color. The creamy white chocolate base — made from wild cacao from Ecuador — is loaded with warm spices, with turmeric and cinnamon shining through the brightest.

Brain Power through chocolate — for real!
(Via Brain Power)

It’s very tasty, and according to the package it’s 36% adaptogens, super herbs and botanicals, including lion’s mane mushroom and gingko, both said to increase focus and cognitive function (hence the name). It’s also raw and vegan. I bought mine at 11th Hour Coffee, and they’re also available via Yes Cacao’s website, along with two other flavors.

I don’t think I need to tell anyone that it’s persimmon season — walk through almost any neighborhood, and you should see these glowing orbs hanging cheerfully from bare tree branches. These enigmatic fruits are highly sought after for their almost tropical flavor and luscious texture, as are their dried counterparts, hoshigaki.

Calling hoshigaki a dried persimmon is kind of like calling wagyu beef a hamburger. This Japanese process of preserving persimmons is time-consuming and involved. First the skin is removed, and each individual fruit is hung and massaged daily as it dries. The result is a wrinkled, perfumey candy with a burnt orange, jelly-like interior. It’s delicious on its own, and makes a festive addition to a holiday cheese tray. I enjoyed mine with Moonflower, an aged sheep’s milk cheese from Garden Variety Cheese.

Hoshigaki can be hard to find, but I found a bag at Santa Cruz Permaculture’s booth at the downtown farmers market. They will be selling their farm cured hoshigaki when available between now and January, so don’t miss out.

Hoshigaki drying.


If you’re inspired to try to cure your own hoshigaki at home, there is a Hoshigaki “Lunch & Learn” Workshop at Jeans Farm Art in Aptos on Sunday, Dec. 5 from 11-1 p.m. The class includes a box of eight persimmons, supplies and instructions on how to make these tasty dried fruits. This is a family-friendly activity and kids 8-12 years old are free to attend with an adult. More info here.

Kick off the holiday season with the Capitola Village Holiday Cookie Walk this weekend. Receive your cookie tin at the Capitola Candy Café and enjoy a walk around the Capitola village while filling it with delicious holiday cookies from participating stores. This event runs Saturday, Dec. 4 from 12-4 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 5 from 12-5 p.m.

Aptos Vineyard.
(Via Aptos Vineyard)

Boutique winery Aptos Vineyard is popping up at Cantine Winepub in Aptos on Sunday, Dec. 5 from 12-4 p.m. Bottles and wines by the glass will be available, as well as a flight of four wines for $15. Aptos Vineyard was established in 1974 by Judge Jon Marlo and was revived in 2018 by the Baker family, with winemaker John Benedetti of Sante Arcangeli Family Wines at the helm. As a small producer without a tasting room, this is a good opportunity to discover a local winery crafting elegant wines using grapes from the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Beer Thirty Bottle Shop & Pourhouse is hosting a holiday pop-up market on Saturday, Dec. 4 from 11-4 p.m. Many of the vendors are bringing food-related gifts, including Big Paw olive oils, SC Bread Boy and his cannolis and focaccia, GMG Woodcrafts with his handmade cutting boards and knives, pottery by Sakai Harts & Crafts, and several more.