By Melissa Duge Spiers
Winter eating is often synonymous with soups, stews, and traditional meals like turkey and gravy … or guilt-inducing holiday binges on piles of decadent treats. But local restaurants are encouraging diners to think outside of the tired Christmas ham, fruitcake, and pecan-pie coma with original, locally sourced dishes that showcase surprising, delicious and nutritious ingredients. Fresh grilled salmon, steaming ramen, and a healthy Christmas salad—talk about something to celebrate this season!
Tonkotsu Ramen with el Salchichero Pork Belly and Miso Bomb ($17)
Oasis Tasting Room & Kitchen
Oasis cofounder Chris LaVeque has been making ramen as a hobby for himself and staff at his butcher shop, el Salchichero, for the better part of a decade, so it’s no surprise that the Oasis Tonkotsu ramen begins with a nutrient-dense, 60-hour bone broth made from his shop’s top-quality pork bones. Other notable elements in the dish include the miso bomb (with no less than 15 ingredients, including pork fat, tahini, red and white miso, and nori) and the staff’s favorite: a soy-marinated egg, or tea egg, served sliced in half with string to maintain the perfectly gooey yolk. Pair this steaming, soul-warming dish with a bowl of house-fermented pickled turnips, onions, cucumbers, baby corn, and cabbage, and a Japonica Pils (a light, crisp pilsner with wasabi and ginger made by the resident brewery, Uncommon Brewers) or the housemade yuzu-basil soda made with fresh yuzu juice and basil syrup.
415 A River St., Santa Cruz, (831) 621-8040, oasissantacruz.com.
Grilled Skuna Bay Salmon ($32)
Sotola Bar & Grill
The supporting ingredients of Sotola’s Grilled Skuna Bay Salmon are so evocative of fall and winter they seem to have spilled directly from a cornucopia: organic, local Post Street Farms heirloom squash done three ways (roasted Lungo squash, smoked Shishigatani squash and Pink Banana squash puree) served with Lollipop kale, sliced Bosc pears, spiced pumpkin seeds, and Post Street Farms honey. The salmon itself is sourced from the family-owned and -operated company Skuna Bay, which raises fish in oceans and rivers and has been awarded the Oscar of the culinary world, a James Beard Award. Sotola co-owner Ashley Bernardi suggests pairing the hearty salmon dish with a glass of vino from the wine list, like the full-bodied Storrs Chardonnay or, for the more playful, the Klinker Brick Rosé.
231 Esplanade, Ste. 102, Capitola, (831) 854-2800, sotolabarandgrill.com.
Ensalada De Nochebuena, aka Christmas Eve Salad ($12)
Jaguar owner Dina Torres suggests a multi-course wintry meal based on the vast selection of cuisine that Mexico creates for Christmas time. “We serve these dishes in the local markets and at home,” she says. “They are food for singing Christmas songs!” The Ensalada de Nochebuena is a juicy, sweet dessert salad that is served chilled, evoking the Christmas spirit with the rich colors of seasonal fruits and green vegetables topped with brilliant red beets. She recommends ordering it with Jaguar’s Mexican Vegetable Soup and Chiles Rellenos with Shredded Pork, which is stuffed with almonds and raisins and topped with whiskey walnut sauce. To complete the celebratory feast, pair the salad with 2013 Martin Ranch Winery Merlot, the soup with a 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, and the Chiles Rellenos with a 2014 Bliss Family Vineyards Chardonnay. Feliz Navidad, indeed!
1116 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz, (831) 600-7428, jaguarrestaurantinc.com.