EATERS DIGEST: NYE plans, and the best things I ate and drank in 2022

Plaa nueng manao prepared by Hanloh chef Lalita Kaewsawang at Bad Animal.
Plaa nueng manao prepared by Hanloh chef Lalita Kaewsawang at Bad Animal.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

As 2022 draws to a close, Lily Belli reflects on some of her favorite dishes and drinks from the past year. Plus, some suggestions for a festive New Year’s Eve.

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Lily

Holy cow, it’s the end of the year already?!

I haven’t said this in a few years, but 2022 was pretty great, actually. I closed out my first year reporting on Santa Cruz County’s food and drink scene for Lookout Santa Cruz and, in addition to meeting some truly remarkable people in the local culinary industry, I got to eat some pretty amazing stuff. This week, I take a look back at some of the most memorable things I ate and drank in the past 12 months.

Also, after a delay of more than six weeks, Dungeness crab season will finally open in California on New Year’s Eve. If that wasn’t a reason enough to celebrate, I have a couple fun suggestions to toast NYE.

News

After being postponed three times since its traditional opening of Nov. 15, Dungeness crab season will open in California on Saturday — with a catch. Crab fishermen south of the Sonoma-Mendocino county line are able to drop only 50% of the pots they’re permitted for due to the continued presence of humpback whales in the area, which officials hope will prevent entanglements until the endangered whales have safely migrated south. Still, crab lovers who have been patiently waiting for their favorite crustaceans to become available are no doubt shining up their crab pots and locating their ice buckets for a trip to their local fishmonger — I know what I’ll be eating on New Years Day, that’s for sure! I reported on this more deeply on Tuesday. Read it here.

A quick note about local farmers markets this weekend: The Saturday markets on the Westside in Santa Cruz and at Cabrillo College in Aptos, as well as the Sunday market in Live Oak, are all closed in observance of the holiday. Regular schedules resume in the new year.

Eat this

As the year draws to a close, I’m reflecting on some of the best things I ate and drank this year. Sifting through the sheer number and variety of dishes, snacks and bites I tried in 2022 made my head spin, and whittling them down was no easy task. I’m sure as soon as I publish this I’ll be reminded of something else — such are the talents of our local chefs, cooks and culinary artisans.

Beila is a mixed-fermentation saison made with malvasia bianca juice and aged in Birichino wine barrels.
Beila is a mixed-fermentation saison made with Malvasia bianca juice and aged in Birichino wine barrels.
(Via Fruition Brewing)

The year started off strong with the winter release of one of my favorite beers to date: Beila, a barrel-aged saison with malvasia bianca grapes. This collaboration between Fruition Brewing and Birichino winery is a juicy, tart beer fragrant with jasmine and honeysuckle. At Lago di Como in Live Oak, my friend and I enjoyed a rich plate of spare-rib and porcini agnolotti with a glass of Montepulciano on a rainy January evening. I went to the Westside farmers market in search of potato-leek pierogies with farmer’s cheese, fresh sugar snap peas, dill, sour cream and sour plum jam.

As spring rolled in, I fell in love with the crispy, flavorful heart-shaped falafel at the newly opened Achilles restaurant in Santa Cruz and thick slices of Detroit-style pan pizza made with seasonal ingredients at Bookie’s inside Sante Adairius Rustic Ales’ Santa Cruz Portal. I sought out flaky vegan pastries, especially the twisted, sugary “cruffin,” from Sweet Bean Bakery and discovered the strawberry tea latte with vanilla cold cream and cinnamon at Honeylux in Watsonville.

Japanese yakitori is prepared over a coal-fired grill at Yakitori Toriman.
(Lookout Santa Cruz)

When summer arrived, you could find me bathed in the fragrant smoke of Yakitori Toriman’s glazed yakitori skewers or dining on silky ahi tuna carpaccio at Trestles in Capitola. Venus Spirits Cocktails & Kitchen Beachside opened in Aptos with a seafood-focused menu, including an overflowing lobster roll with tarragon aioli. And, after a competitive search, I found the best BLT in Santa Cruz County at Reef Dog Deli in Capitola.

As 2022 began to wind down, I couldn’t get enough of the sweet, firm-fleshed Emerald Beaut plums at my local farmers market. And, from the betel-leaf wrapped mieng to the local halibut bathed in a cilantro-lime-green chili broth, I enjoyed an incredibly memorable meal by Hanloh at downtown Santa Cruz’s Bad Animal. Just two doors down, I became acquainted with Honey B Market’s cinnamon “snails,” a sourdough cinnamon roll made with dates, cashew icing and no refined sugar.

I can’t wait to see what 2023 has in store!

Events

Welcome 2023 with a special wine and oyster pairing at Big Basin Vineyards’ tasting room in downtown Santa Cruz. The team behind some of Santa Cruz County’s most complex and luxurious mountain wines is partnering with Ocean2Table and pairing fresh Hatsu oysters from Tomales Bay with the 2020 Howard Chardonnay. Throw back a glass and a few tasty bivalves from 4 to 9 p.m. Friday and noon to 7 p.m. Saturday at 525 Pacific Ave. in Santa Cruz.

Integrity Wines is also adding a festive spin to its tasting menu for New Year’s Eve. On Saturday, enjoy a tasting of two different panettone paired with two wines on Integrity’s tasting list, including the non-vintage brut sparkling wine. The tasting fee is $15 for non-members and waived with a $40 purchase, and Integrity is also offering 25% to 40% discounts on its brut. Visit Integrity Wines’ tasting room at 135 Aviation Way in Watsonville from noon to 5 p.m.