La Posta Vecchia – Santa Cruz, CA

La Posta Vecchia
538 Seabright Ave.
Santa Cruz, CA 95062
(831) 457-2782

California has a long tradition of Italian immigration beginning in the 19th century.  Although New York is probably more closely associated with this wave of newcomers, in the mid-1800s California had the most Italian immigrants of any state.  In Santa Cruz and elsewhere along the coast, northern Italians quickly became very prominent in the fishing industry.  They also played important roles in developing California’s vegetable, fruit and wine industries.

Even today, one can see the imprint of this immigration (e.g. Del Monte foods, Ghirardelli chocolates).  Perhaps this explains this state’s strong ties to Italian cuisine – indeed, California cuisine in my mind is primarily rooted in Italian sensibilities with French, other European and some Asian techniques and ingredients thrown in for good measure.  Despite this, it’s only been in the last decade or so that authentic regional Italian food has been widely available.

La Posta in the mostly locals-only neighborhood of Seabright in Santa Cruz is my favorite Italian restaurant in town.  It doesn’t appear to specialize in the cuisine of any particular region, and instead seems to borrow from a number of different parts of Italy, albeit leaned more towards northern Italy. This was one of my first opportunities to try the cooking of new chef Katherine Stern, who arrived earlier this year with an impressive resume, including a stint at a two-star Michelin restaurant in Italy.
House-made bread in their gas-fired pizza oven has always been a nice starter at La Posta, which they serve with butter which I prefer to the more common (these days) olive oil.
Their pastas have always been one of their strengths, and the two today we sampled this time were no exception: the papperdelle with chicken and chantrelle mushroom sugo and the pasta alla chitarra with kale and mushrooms were both excellent.
The fresh pasta, one of my favorite things to get at any restaurant, was in both cases toothsome and perfectly al dente.  These dishes exhibit a light touch with sauce, allowing the pasta to shine through rather than being overwhelmed.  The sauces were simple but well-chosen combinations that suited the available produce of the winter season.
Pizzas are also a strength.  The crust is thin, usually with decent char (though sometimes I think another 30 seconds in the oven would be warranted) and chewy rather than crispy.  I’m not enough of a pizza aficianado to know exactly what region in Italy this most closely resembles, but it’s tasty and satisfying although the my platonic pizza crust has some crispiness to it.  The toppings (shown is house-made sausage, kale and red onion) exhibit the same philosophy as the pasta sauces: two or three well thought-out ingredients leading to a simplicity that doesn’t overwhelm the crust. One won’t confuse it with Pizzeria Bianco but it’s also a lot closer to my house, not to mention the wait is shorter by a few hours.
Dessert on this evening was a panna cotta with blood red oranges and almonds.  Most of us were surprised by how much we liked this dish, with a very luxurious, creamy mouthfeel and tasty winter citrus providing a burst of flavor and acidic balance.
The wine list is exclusively Italian, and all wines can be purchased at La Posta’s sister Soif, the amazing downtown Santa Cruz wine bar/wine shop.  All told, La Posta is one of my favorite spots and well-worth a visit if you’re in the area.

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