Ristorante Avanti now offers cocktails
to rival its delicious farm-to-table fare
By Amber Turpin
Photography by Angela Aurelio
Back in 1987 when Ristorante Avanti opened up in the little Palm Center on Mission Street in Santa Cruz, it was hardly the norm for local restaurants to cite which farmer had grown the spinach in your salad. But since day one, Paul and Cindy Geise have been dedicated to sourcing locally and giving credit to their producers, placing Santa Cruz’s much-loved neighborhood trattoria not far behind the restaurants at the vanguard of the national farm-to-fork food movement, like San Francisco’s Chez Panisse and Greens.
“Keep it simple,” says Paul. “We have such great ingredients here that you don’t have to do much to them.”
This ideology has long been expressed in the food coming out of the Avanti kitchen, currently headed by chef Adolfo Martinez. But it now also applies to the bar program, to which, after 25 years of offering only beer and wine, the restaurant has quietly been adding spectacular cocktails since recently moving to a bigger location down the street.
Along with pristine, local ingredients, collaboration is a vital component to the drinks program Avanti has been cultivating. Surfer-turned-certified sommelier Jake Casarez recently stepped into a new food and beverage director position, and along with his fellow bartending team of Pete Mueller and Katie Cater (who has been with Avanti for 14 years), they meet with Geise and Casarez to create cocktails to align with the food menu, similarly highlighting the season.
Winter showcases Casarez’s housemade quince liqueur and bitters, finding home in a blushing Quince Cosmo. The team also tinkers with a variety of seasonal shrubs, the tasty elixirs that have been used for centuries to preserve fruit and now are a darling of artisanal cocktail and soda makers. A recent combination of Avanti’s wild herb shrub, made with lavender, sage, thyme and rosemary, along with some whiskey and served on the rocks, is memorable to say the least.
“For me, you always want to get better, you always want to change,” reflects Paul. He knows that it is tricky to find a balance between new and old, satisfying long-time regulars and newcomers both.
But anyone who has yet to visit the “new” Avanti should go there immediately. Any longing for the original location will dissipate when you feel the same warmth, the same glow, the same conviviality (and the same chocolate pot de crème). Aside from the location, the only thing that has changed is that now you can have an exceptional cocktail there, too!
Amber Turpin is a food writer who homesteads in Ben Lomond.
Jake Casarez, Avanti’s food and beverage director, pictured opposite, created the sage bitters that flavor the restaurant’s White Sage Manhattan, pictured this page.