Olive, my love... 515 sure knows martinis. (Jenn Ireland)

Olive, my love... 515 sure knows martinis. (Jenn Ireland)

Funky elegance, laid-back glamor and serious libations are among the many charms of downtown's 515 Kitchen & Cocktails, located at 515 Cedar Street, as my colleagues and I found out last Friday. Happily ensconced on some of the soft cushions in the downstairs lounge, we enjoyed the wet afternoon from afar. Brenda opted for a classic gin and tonic, while I went for a bracing, not-sweet Cucumber Mojito made with Bombay Sapphire gin instead of vodka. Great idea, since the result was lightly vegetal with a deep reservoir of minty gin. But Alexei hit the jackpot with the gorgeous, pale orange Pamplemousse (French for “grapefruit”). Sure enough, it was loaded with not only orange and grapefruit juices but grapefruit vodka as well. A splash of intriguing rhubarb aperitif and a squeeze of fresh lemon provided top and bottom notes to this splendid cocktail. We also shared a generous 515 cheese platter—$15 for plenty of nuts, crackers and designer cheese snacking for three grown-ups. Love those rainy afternoons.

Youthful CuisineCongratulations (again!) to Reilly Meehan of Soquel, who has just been named the American Culinary Federation’s 2012 Western Region Student Chef of the Year after blazing through the competition in Sparks, Nev. last week. Meehan will head to Orlando, Fla. in July for a crack at the national title.

New Chef @ Cellar Door Always tinkering and fine-tuning, Bonny Doon Vineyard founder Randall Grahm has just signed a new chef for the Cellar Door Café at his Santa Cruz tasting room. Ryan Shelton arrives after having served as chef de cuisine and pastry chef for the past two years at Bruno Chemel’s two-star Michelin restaurant in Palo Alto, Baumé. Shelton also cooked with Chemel at Menlo Park's celebrated Chez TJ. Look for an eclectic new menu that honors the region while maintaining a sense of fun. “Bonny Doon has always been quirky, modern and fun, so we’re trying to get that incorporated in the food,” he recently told the SF Chronicle. “We have some pretty exciting changes planned.” Chef Shelton's new menu definitely caught my eye, especially entrees of grilled Monterey squid with polenta and arugula, and 38 North lacquered duck with orange and radicchio.

Hot Date  Don't miss next week's Pinot Paradise festivities up at Alfaro Family Vineyards at 420 Hames Road in idyllic Corralitos. The pinot-intensive self-guided tour of 21 local pinot producers is yours for $25 (or come to Alfaro's, listen to live music, enjoy complimentary snacks and make new best friends for $10). Richard Alfaro and friends will be pouring six fabulous pinots. For details about all of the participating wineries, check with the Santa Cruz Mountain Winegrowers.