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Aug 21st
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Dining

Restaurant dining and wine reviews for Santa Cruz County >
Menu Guide for Santa Cruz area.

Dining Reviews

Midtown Marketplace

Midtown Marketplace

I first met Chef Joshua Server in 2008 at the Live Oak Farmers Market where he was cooking brunch from his Conscious Creations Catering booth. I feasted upon his bright, fruit-topped, muffin-like Coconut-Kahlua Banana Pancakes with natural maple syrup.

In May, the name Conscious Creations Cafe appeared on the door of the old Black China Bakery Cafe on Soquel Avenue, and I've been eagerly awaiting the chance to sample more of Chef Joshua's organic specialties.

The patio is furnished with pale blue sofas, and inside, an attractive wraparound service counter with prep and display area has been added. The cafe will double as a market featuring local products. On this day there were beautiful candies from Ashby Confections of Aptos and Fruitful jellies made from central coast produce.

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Wine Reviews

Pleasant Valley Vineyards

Pleasant Valley Vineyards

Syrah 2008, Sean Boyle Family Reserve

Pleasant Valley Vineyards is making some splendid wines these days. Their Sean Boyle 2008 Syrah Family Reserve is absolutely top notch – and, at $40, is worth the splurge.

The grapes for this luscious beauty are grown at Lester Family Vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The Lester property is well worth a visit (see event info below) when the opportunity arises. Their acres and acres of perfectly tended vines – which, in turn, produce perfect grapes – is an awesome sight, indeed.

But back to the Syrah: As it says on the label, it is handcrafted from nurtured, hand-trained, de-leafed and harvested vines. It is then aged exclusively in small oak barrels, and bottled unfiltered and unfined – giving a richer and denser mouthfeel.

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Dining Reviews

Sampling Sichuan Spices

Sampling Sichuan Spices

The popular O'mei on Mission continues to dazzle diners with its array of flavors

For more than 30 years O'mei Restaurant has served its classy renditions of Chinese cuisine on busy Mission Street. It had been some time since I had visited, and was looking forward to its special brand of spiciness.

We were offered a dinner menu, a specials menu which included seasonal Chinese vegetables, and the express menu which included noodle bowls, sautées and chow mein.

We chose two appetizers ($3) from a tray of six. String beans were mixed with plenty of garlic. Tanned and lacquered cashews were polka dotted with black and white sesame seeds for a sweet and salty snack.

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Dining Reviews

Dog-friendly

Dog-friendly

There's a new Dog in town on the corner of Pacific Avenue and Laurel Street. Surf Dog serves mainly burgers and hot dogs, and you can design your own from a selection of ten meats and 19 toppings

The finishes are upscale for this small, late-night joint, with mosaic tile floors and a Corian-style marble table which matches those at Khyber Pass, the owner's other restaurant.

This isn't necessarily fast food: it took 20 minutes for a Juicy SC ($5.95), made to order. But it was hot, and even though cooked through, plenty moist. The fat sesame-seeded bun, spread with tart orange Surf Sauce was filled with a thick grill-marked patty with sautéed red bell peppers, crisp-textured onions and mushrooms. The orange cheese quickly melted until lusciously gooey, although the described garlic flavor was not apparent to me.

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Wine Reviews

Cycles Winery

Cycles Winery

Chardonnay 2009


If you haven’t seen Cycles Gladiator wine on supermarket shelves, then you haven’t been paying attention. It’s most definitely out there—and in great quantities. The belle époque label of a naked woman on a winged bicycle catches my eye every time I walk by grocery store shelves when I’m looking for a new bottle of wine to write about. This time, I was shopping in New Leaf when—there it is again, the ubiquitous Cycles Gladiator. It is very reasonably priced for around $12, but happened to be on sale for only $7 at New Leaf.

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Dining Reviews

Prodigious Pantry

Prodigious Pantry

The menu at the reinvented Casablanca Bistro offers novel ingredients to complement the fabulous view

The new owners of Casablanca Bistro and Inn have enlisted Jon Carder as Executive Chef. With an extensive multi-ethnic culinary background, his menu brings numerous unique and unfamiliar ingredients to the table.

Lunch is served downstairs in the Bistro bar’s Sea Level Room and on its Beach Street patio. The menu includes a selection of small plates, salads, and sandwiches.

Build your own Grilled Cheese Sandwich ($6) with a familiar flavor, or investigate Spain’s rich Manchego or Italy’s Burrata, a fresh mozzarella with creamy center. Then choose vegetables, meat and a spread such as fig jam or spicy Tunisian harissa. Other sandwiches ($11-$15), served with salad or fries, include France's famous ham and cheese croque monsieur or Grilled Coulotte steak with blue cheese, and Chinese heirloom pink watermelon radishes.

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Dining Reviews

Treats on Beach Street

Treats on Beach Street

I remember fondly our family picnics at various local beaches. Nothing ever tasted as good as the sandwiches my mom made on her blanket in the sand with freshly sliced sourdough bread, salami, cheese, tomatoes and dill pickles. Were they marvelous because of impending hypothermia, or because they were healthy and freshly made?

The Picnic Basket, a new endeavor by the folks at Penny Ice Creamery, brings a fresh and healthy taste of Santa Cruz to Boardwalk-area visitors. The menu includes food products from a venerable local list of who’s-who, with an emphasis on sustainability.

For breakfast ($3 to $8), begin with organic, brick oven breads and pastries from Mission Street’s Companion Bakers, or hot cereal from the 70-year old South San Francisco mills of Giusto’s Specialty Foods. You'll find all-natural bacon or ham from the family farms of Niman Ranch, Heidi Schlecht’s Santa Cruz Plumline organic jams, and sweet and savory turnovers made in-house.

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Wine Reviews

Soquel Vineyards

Soquel Vineyards

Zinfandel 2008

The grapes for this gorgeous Zinfandel come from century-old vines—one of the reasons why this Soquel Vineyards’ 2008 Zin is so darn good. Another reason is expert winemakers knowing exactly when the grapes are at their peak and ready to be picked; and the whole process of getting wine into bottle when the time is right. It all sounds easy enough, but it takes expertise and dedication to get everything in balance.

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Dining Reviews

Here and There

Here and ThereSanta Cruz Pizza Company offers eat-in, take-out, bake-it-yourself pies and more

Santa Cruz Pizza Company is a family-run restaurant that resides in the busy Victor Square shopping center near Scotts Valley Market. With televisions and a menu that offers more than pies, it's the perfect destination for a family night out.
Surfboards with beer logos ride the vivid blue walls surrounding tables and upholstered booths with roughly hewn seatbacks smoothly varnished to reflect soft light.
Sandwiches ($6.50 to $7.50), which are served on house-made focaccia bread, include Mama's Meatballs and Philly Cheesesteaks. Plates of pasta ($5.95/$9.95), fresh from Santa Cruz Pasta Company, are served with either marinara or Alfredo sauces and garlic cheese bread.
For snacks, the Kickin' Cajun Wings ($6.05 per half pound) sauces range from regular to hot to BBQ.
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Dining Reviews

Bus Stop Burritos

Bus Stop Burritos

On a concrete island smack in the middle of Santa Cruz's downtown metro center, fragrant sauces simmered in a tiny but well-equipped kitchen where two women were busily rolling burritos. It's a perfect location for good fast food; right on Front Street and at the stop for the heavily ridden Highway 17 Express.

Quesadillas ($3 to $6) include Sea and Land. Surprisingly thick with its edges sealed like a turnover, plump shrimp and steak joined tomatoes, pickled jalapeños and plenty of cheese within the browned tortilla.

New on the menu is Dandy's Synchronizada ($6), which combines chewy pieces of chopped steak with ham, onions, jalapeños and cheese.

El Dandy's tortas ($4.50 to $6) are very transportable—including the Torta Cubana ($6). In an oblong airy bun, thinly sliced ham, steak, chorizo, griddled, sliced hot dogs, tomato and hot pickled jalapeños made a satisfying lunch.

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Trending Now

Whether you live by the Vogue bible or choose to go into your day wearing what you slept in, odds are you wear clothes.

 

The Thought Form of Solution

It’s our last week of Leo before the sun enters Virgo (next Friday/Saturday). The planets this week make complex patterns and relationships (vibrational cadences and rhythms) with the outer planets, mainly Neptune—the planet that veils, obscures, protects and finally refines us. Neptune offers us entrance into a deeply spiritual sense of comfort and solace. Neptune is the personality ruler of Pisces (saviors of the world) and soul ruler of Cancer (world mother). “The fish goddesses who leapt from earth (Virgo) to water (Pisces) unitedly give birth to the Fish God (Christ, the Soul) who introduces the waters of life  (Neptune & Aquarius) into the ocean of substance (matter, mother bringing light to the world. Thus does Neptune work.” (Esoteric Astrology).

 

Final Cut

Cedar Street Video to close after 10 years at downtown location

 

Cultures Collide

No surprises, but lots to savor in foodie film ‘The Hundred-Foot Journey’
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Foodie File: Kauboi

Japanese-Western themed unites sushi with whiskey and beefgrill

 

How should Santa Cruz develop downtown around the San Lorenzo River?

Santa Cruz | Artist/Show Promoter

 

Best of Santa Cruz County

The 2013 Santa Cruz County Readers' Poll and Critics’ Picks It’s our biggest issue of the year, and in it, your votes—more than 6,500 of them—determined the winners of The Best of Santa Cruz County Readers’ Poll. New to the long list of local restaurants, shops and other notables that captured your interest: Best Beer Selection, Best Locally Owned Business, Best Customer Service and Best Marijuana Dispensary. In the meantime, many readers were ever so chatty online about potential new categories. Some of the suggestions that stood out: Best Teen Program and Best Web Design/Designer. But what about: Dog Park, Church, Hotel, Local Farm, Therapist (I second that!) or Sports Bar—not to be confused with Bra. Our favorite suggestion: Best Act of Kindness—one reader noted Café Gratitude and the free meals it offered to the Santa Cruz Police Department in the aftermath of recent crimes. Perhaps some of these can be woven into next year’s ballot, so stay tuned. In the meantime, enjoy the following pages and take note of our Critics’ Picks, too, beginning on page 91. A big thanks for voting—and for reading—and an even bigger congratulations to all of the winners. Enjoy.  -Greg Archer, EditorBest of Santa Cruz County Readers’ Poll INDEX

 

Have Mercy!

Looking for a frisky summer wine at a reasonable price? Look no further than Mercy Vineyards’ 2013 Sauvignon Blanc ($20). Richly textured “with an exotic flavor profile,” the wine reveals aromas of honeydew melon and honeysuckle, with anise appearing as a star attraction. Smidgeons of pineapple and honeycomb add a touch of sexiness to this well-balanced, easy-drinking wine, which pairs well with a variety of cuisine —especially ceviche, calamari and other not-too-heavy foods.