O'mei has so many great dishes. Photo by Chip Scheuer.

Dinner at O’mei: As other restaurants become louder, O’mei becomes even more precious. Handsome, intimate and cozy, the dining rooms of O’mei provide true culinary—and conversational—oases, where the food has never been better and you can actually converse in words of more than one shouted syllable. That doesn’t mean that O’mei isn’t busy. Au contraire. It just means that the management has applied carpeting to the floor and chosen to space the tables with plenty of room between groupings, including the celebrated round tables that have hosted countless parties, reunions, extended families, visiting dignitaries and happy people who like to dine in groups.Last week we began dinner with glasses of trusty Ridge Three Valleys and Cinnabar Rising, and a dish of piquant Gan Bian string beans. These crisp string beans dressed with Sichuan “ya cai,” soy, sesame oil and lotus root are a favorite small plate. Easily one of O’mei’s secret weapons, these tempting little mini-appetizers are brought to your table (an enlightened alternative to the ciabatta course) before you even order your main meal. The seaweed salad with spicy (!) pickled chile and sesame oil is another one of our favorites. But I had to save room for my all-time top appetizer—the house signature Red Oil dumplings, in which a trio of pork and spice-stuffed dumplings arrive swimming in a sauce that is nothing short of sublime. Our main dishes that evening were a Taiwanese catfish sauteed with tomatoes and onions in a chili-cumin-cilantro-seasoned tomato sauce. O’mei also does a version of this dish using lean lamb, and it is equally memorable. These are flavors so brilliantly combined that I have imagined myself sitting down to eat and simply never stopping. This dish could be breakfast, lunch and dinner. Our other dish was Yuxiang prawns with eggplant in a sweet-tart garlic-chili-ginger sauce, another brilliant blend of tender, pliant, gorgeously balanced entrees on the planet. Or at least on the Central Coast. Succulence is made new in this dish graced with more than its fair share of mouthfeel. Too bad we hadn’t saved enough room for the special dessert of pumpkin custard with candied pecans and whipped cream, an old Hunan favorite.

New Semester at Surf City Wine University: The winter session begin on December 2 with Barry Jackson of Equinox Champagne Cellars offering a class on sparkling wines—just in time to tune your palate for Christmas and New Year’s festivities. Jackson will discuss the intricate production of sparkling wine. Participants will be able to taste a variety of sparkling wine styles as well. The school year continues with one class each month through April, including “Chardonnay Styles” with Steve Storrs, “Wine Tasting 101” with Michael Sones and “Iberian Wines” with Jeff Emery. All of these engaging workshops will be held on Sundays, 12-2pm at the instructor winemaker’s tasting room/winery. Individual classes are $30 each, and include edifying remarks as well as appropriate tastings. Register at any of the Surf City tasting rooms, or call (408) 234-2079. More info can be found at www.surfcityvintners.com.

Bantam Opens with a Bang: And a packed house wild with excitement over the presence of an almond-wood burning pizza oven pouring forth textbook pizzas, with paper-thin crusts and eclectic toppings. Nice little wine list, a few non-pizza entrees and some tasty starters, including very piquant pickled carrots and turnips! Open daily 5-9pm, except for Monday, for dinner.  Corner of Fair and Ingalls. Congratulations to proprietors Sarah and Ben Sims.