Saratoga restaurateurs causing a stir in Santa Cruz Mountains

Creating new dining experiences in Ben Lomond

Angelo Heropoulos, owner of Saratoga’s Hero Ranch Kitchen and Flowers Restaurant, has taken over the storefront formerly occupied by Pasta Armellino, which closed in October. It will now be used as an event space by Sarah Sotello’s catering company, Hero Ranch Kitchen. She claims that they are already booked solid.

In 2018, Chef Peter Armellino of the Michelin-starred Plumed Horse opened Pasta Armellino, which specializes in fresh house-made pasta and sauces. In Saratoga, he opened his first location in the space formerly occupied by East Coast Alice. It previously housed Casa de Cobre (by Andrew Welch) and, from 1977 to 1996, Don Durante’s Le Mouton Noir. While Pasta Armellino in Saratoga only offered dinner counter service and takeout, the Campbell location at The Pruneyard, 1875 S Bascom Ave., is still open daily for dine-in and takeout, serving lunch and dinner, from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Remember one of Saratoga’s favorite Italian restaurants, Ristorante Da Mario? The restaurant was beloved for its fresh homemade dishes, live music, and frequent winemaker dinners until it closed in 2014. It was owned by chefs Mario Ibarra and Sandro Costanza, who met and worked together at Star Bene in Santa Cruz. Ibarra then co-founded Casa Nostra with Raffaele Cristallo and Pasquale Bianco in the former Ciao Bella location in Ben Lomond. The place is famous for its local bar action and music, and it has an enormous ring of redwood trees that is connected by benches and ringed with tiny white lights.

Cristallo, who also owned the Oak Tree restaurant in Felton, decided to open a new Casa Nostra location in Scotts Valley in early 2022. Ibarra and Bianco then decided to leave Cristallo and open Aroma, a new restaurant in Ben Lomond. The two transformed the old Tyrolean Inn, known for its hearty German fare, into a fusion of continental and Italian cuisine. It, too, is surrounded by redwoods and has a massive outdoor patio, which Ristorante di Mario lacked.

lbarra is looking forward to the new menu, which is becoming more Italian by the week. He holds special “German nights” to please the previous restaurant’s many patrons, and he recently held his first highly successful Oktoberfest. He invites all Saratoga Da Mario fans to his new location, which features a large redwood bar serving up tasty cocktails. Ibarra says he’s bringing back crowd favorite musician Claudia Melaga to entertain diners in the traditional Italian style.

Costanza, for his part, returned to Santa Cruz and opened Pizzeria La Bufala in Abbott Square Market. His wood-fired pies are highly sought after.

Is cabernet sauvignon your true love? Premier Cruz tickets are selling quickly for the event on Friday, Nov. 10, which begins with a reception salon at 4:30 p.m., followed by dinner prepared by Chef Ross Hanson of Oak & Rye. This annual event honors the best cabs in the region, the vast majority of which are grown in the Saratoga hills. The event will take place at Vidovich, which is located on Montebello Road in Cupertino, and will feature wines from Beauregard, Burrell School, Cooper-Garrod, Kathryn Kennedy, Kings Mountain, Left Bend, Maison Areion, Mount Eden, Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard, and others. Tickets for the salon are $65 and $195, respectively, at

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