While the rest of you were feasting on sugary candy corn, we spent our traditional Halloween dinner at Avanti. The “old” Avanti, aka the new Pizzeria Avanti, where Jeremy Federico has grown gracefully into his role as front house manager. 

What a pleasure to be back in one of our favorite dining rooms, especially since it was immediately apparent that very little had been altered. The back bar still sports its blackboard listings of wines. The row of souvenir faience pottery still lines the ceiling. Ella Fitzgerald beams her approval upon the entry dining room. The main changes we saw were good ones—attractive new, comfortable chairs, and more generous table spacing.

Service was excellent—it’s always welcoming to be offered a sample taste of a wine you might like to order. Thanks to a very compelling taste, I ended up toasting All Hallow’s Eve with a glass of inky Nerello Mascalese 2010 from northern Sicily. Edgy with tannins yet ripe enough to romance a garlicky pizza, this robust wine opened beautifully over the course of our dinner ($8, just like every wine by the glass). The new stemless wineglasses add another rustic touch.

We shared an antipasti plate offering roasted cauliflower, mushrooms and romesco, surrounded by a trio of salumi—outstanding, densely flavored, earthy coppa, plus thinly shaved prosciutto and a generous portion of sliced salame. Also $8. Our secondi was an evening special salad of baby arugula, highlighting transparent slices of pickled yellow beets, shaves of pickled red onions, avocado and a notable shallot vinaigrette enhanced with lemon zest. An utterly delicious salad for $8, perfect for the two of us to share.

With tastebuds revved up, we finished up with one of the house signature 12-inch pizzas. Pizzeria Avanti’s specialty involves moderately thin, pliant crust, rather than the paper-thin Roman-style one tends to associate with “designer” pizzas. A hearty creation, the pizza was slathered with a perfect balance of fresh heirloom tomato sauce and mild, fresh mozzarella ($12). Huge fresh leaves of basil had been strewn on top of the pie, and their pungent minty aroma perfumed the table. We might have added house-made fennel for $4, or anchovies or arugula for $3 more. Lots of choices here to customize your pie. We consumed as much as was decent and took the rest home for lunch the next day.

Good news—Pizzeria Avanti has just opened for lunch on weekdays, 11:30-2pm, as well as dinners nightly from 5pm.  Welcome back!Pizzeria Avanti – 1711 Mission Street, lunch weekdays; dinner nightly.(831) 425-1807.


Mobile Heat!

Zameen now provides a food app you can access with your own bare hands. I’m referring to the ginormous wraps you can find for $7 at the Zameen Mediterranean Cuisine food truck parked in the Performing Arts parking lot at UCSC weekdays from 11:30am-2:30pm. Whatever you order, you must try some of the wicked good green jalapeño hot sauce.  It is both delicious and spicy. Ditto the harissa, but my vote goes to the green sauceJohnny’s Harborside is hosting a Winemaker Dinner with Carmel Valley’s Joyce Vineyards on Friday Nov. 9. The $75 per person (sans tax & tip) price benefits Cabrillo College’s outstanding Culinary Arts program, but more to the point it allows you to feast your way through appetizers of multiple poke creations, spring rolls and pan-seared day boat scallops with uni risotto. Then comes a course of red peppercorn-crusted wild boar loin, followed by dessert of saffron citrus panna cotta. Yeow!  All paired with appropriate wines. To see if there are any seats left, call (831) 479-3430 or email info@johnnysharborside.com.