EATERS DIGEST: Mutari’s chocolate cafe to close, Mentone happenings and stellar pastas at Lago di Como
Valentine’s Day marks a bittersweet last day downtown for Mutari, with the space it’s occupied for the past seven years set for demolition. But fear not, Lily Belli finds that there’s plenty of foodie love afoot in Santa Cruz County.
Welcome to February, already pretty action packed for the shortest month of the year.
Sadly, Mutari Chocolate announced that its café on Front Street in downtown Santa Cruz will close due to the building’s upcoming demolition, so grab your truffles and freeze its brownies while you can. In Aptos, Mentone is opening for lunch and offering fun menus for Super Bowl Sunday and Valentine’s Day, and I share two delicious pastas I recently had at Lago di Como.
Coming up, don’t miss the return of the Westside Marketplace this Sunday, and mark your calendars for a wine tasting event with Big Basin Vineyards on Wednesday.
Attention chocolate lovers: Mutari Chocolate’s café in downtown Santa Cruz will close after Feb. 14. But don’t worry, owner Katy Oursler assures me that many Mutari products will still be available online while she and chocolate chef Stephen Beaumier look for a new home for their bean-to-cup chocolate company.
The building on Front Street that the chocolate café and kitchen has inhabited for the past seven years is set to be demolished as part of the Cruz Hotel project. While Oursler and Beaumier have known for years that a plan was in place, the official date kept getting pushed back and they decided to wait it out. “We felt we’d built this beautiful home and space that people loved coming to,” Oursler said, “and until we found the next space that felt right we decided to stay put.”
“When we started making chocolate here, we weren’t open for retail or a café space. Then we started opening just for pop-ups, then we’d open for one, two, and eventually four weekends a month. As interest grew and we honed our skills as craft chocolate makers, it evolved very organically.”
Now they’re getting ready to say goodbye, and invite their chocolate community to visit them through Valentine’s Day to stock up on take-and-bake cookies, brownies, sipping chocolate and chocolate bars and truffles. Oursler says they chose that day for their send-off not just because chocolate is closely associated with the holiday, but because they “have a love affair for our fans and community.”
For now, Oursler and Beaumier plan to continue production of their chocolate bars and sipping chocolate for online distribution at their warehouse in Watsonville. The couple will also take time to visit farms they source from directly, which they haven’t had time to do since before the pandemic. They will also take time to catch their breath and regroup while they reflect on the lessons they learned in the past few years and plan for their future.
For Love Day, Mutari is releasing two new flavors: a dark chocolate truffle made with chaga mushrooms and chili, a collaboration with Far West Fungi, and a dark chocolate ganache truffle flavored with Venus Spirits’ anejo reposado, lime zest and grasshopper salt. Find them at Mutari’s downtown shop or online. And keep an eye out for Mutari pop-ups this spring, when it hopes to partner with downtown businesses to sell its amazing truffles for holidays like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.
Oursler says the feeling of leaving the space where they’ve had so many amazing memories is bittersweet, but she’s thankful. “The pandemic has trained all of us to pivot and expect the unexpected,” she said. “It’s going to be OK and I’m excited to see what comes next. The next step is just finding a space that’s the right fit.” Hours: Wednesday-Sunday noon-6 p.m. and Monday, Feb. 14, noon-6 p.m. Mutarichocolate.com.
The staff at Mentone are gearing up for a busy week. Chris Sullivan, the general manager at chef David Kinch’s Italian riviera-style trattoria in Aptos, tells me that starting this Saturday, lunch service begins on the weekends. From noon to 2:30 p.m., stop in for wood-fired pizzas, salads and a few dishes unique to lunch service. On Wednesday, Mentone will release a special menu for the Super Bowl, featuring pan pizza slices, fried chicken, pizzas and Caesar salad, plus to-go spritz cocktails. Order in advance for pickup on Sunday, Feb. 13. FYI, Mentone will be closed for service on that day.
Last, Sullivan shared the restaurant’s special prix fixe Valentine’s Day menu, which includes Beau Soleil oysters, roasted brassicas Caesar salad, a choice of gnocchi or beef short rib and a chocolate pot de creme. Dinner is $90 per person, and lovers can impress their dates by splurging on the $80 truffle service or $130 caviar supplement, should they feel so inclined. Make your reservations at mentonerestaurant.com.
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My friend and I had a delicious meal at Live Oak’s Lago di Como restaurant last weekend. From the light, crispy calamari fritti to pastry chef Crescenzo Pelliccia’s gorgeous persimmon opera cake, everything was delicious, but the standouts were our two pasta dishes. I adored the agnolotti stuffed with tender spare rib meat and served in a creamy mushroom sauce with plenty of porcini. Rich and hearty, it paired perfectly with a glass of Montepulciano and a chilly January evening. The other pasta was one I normally wouldn’t have chosen, but my friend had eaten it before and said I had to try it. I’m so glad she insisted, because the pasta fresca alla vodka, made with fusilli pasta in a creamy tomato vodka sauce with smoked salmon, was outstanding. Bravo to owner-chef Giovanni Spanu! I can’t wait to come back. Lagodicomoristorante.com.
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The first Westside Marketplace of 2022 is this Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Old Wrigley Lot on the Westside, and it’s starting the year off with a bang. Forty artists, crafters and vintage vendors will be there, including Big Paw Olive Oil, Anna Can Ceramics, Kalinda Vintage Finds and Earth Care Apothecary. The Rayburn Brothers are performing live from 12:30 to 3:30, and Pana Venezuelan Arepas, Taquizas Gabriel, Union Foodie Truck and Three Waves Coffee will make sure you don’t walk around hungry. This free event is put on Santa Cruz Mountains Makers Market and Food Trucks A Go Go. More info at foodtrucksagogo.com and scmmakersmarket.com.
On Wednesday, Big Basin Vineyards will host a virtual wine tasting on Instagram Live with wine blogger Emily Martin, aka @jetsettingfashionista. BBV founder Bradley Brown and head winemaker Blake Yarger will taste through their 2018 vintage chardonnays and pinot noirs while chatting with Martin about their winemaking process, making wines in tune with Mother Nature and why they chose to establish themselves in the Santa Cruz Mountains. While it’s sure to be an interesting conversation, it will be a lot more fun with wine. You can purchase four of the wines they’ll discuss and taste along. More info at bigbasinvineyards.com.