At Takara Japanese Restaurant, colorful presentations augment fresh flavors
I hadn’t visited Takara Japanese Restaurant since they moved from a tiny mid-town location to the expansive Red Lobster site in Capitola. We were met with glasses of ice water and warm damp towels to prepare our hands for the possibility of finger eating. Bowls of warm miso soup ($2.50) were soothing and salty with soft seaweed and tofu.
The restaurant's beautifully appointed interior is rich and multi-textured with warm wood, bamboo, mats woven from organic materials, and silk weavings.
The Sweet Mussel appetizer ($5.50) included three bivalve half shells stuffed with chopped mollusks in a sweet, garlicky mayonnaise-type sauce, which were baked until golden and heaped with sparkling orange tobiko flying fish roe.
I arrived at Brown's Ranch Marketplace as a batch of chicken was pulled off the mesquite charcoal-fired grill. I expected good things from Crown Café, owned by Scotts Valley Market, with an Executive Chef who studied in Paris at le Cordon Bleu under Julia Child. A friend says it’s the only good sandwich place in town.
A cold case was stocked with olives, juices, fruit and meal-sized salads. The Traditional Cobb ($6.95) with mixed greens was topped with blue cheese, tomatoes, bacon and hard-boiled egg. Made-to-order hot ($5.99 to $8) and cold ($6.99 to $7.99) sandwiches, wraps ($4.99) and Panini ($6.49), along with more salads are made to order behind the counter.
My first happy encounter was with the Smoke Stack ($6.99). The smoky flavor of Boar’s Head turkey breast was evident in this warm sandwich served on a Francese roll with crunchy bacon, crisp lettuce, cheddar cheese, and pesto mayonnaise.
I had this empty bottle of Ghostwriter Chardonnay sitting on my desk for some time—intending to write about it. I had chosen this particular bottle at Soif when some friends and I headed there after a concert at The Civic—and we all enjoyed this interesting wine along with a couple of plates of hors d’oeuvres. I carried the bottle home so that I could take in the label—a study in pale minimalism—featuring an old manual typewriter. And there’s not much else, really, except this strange verse (copied from the label verbatim):
Café Gratitude brings attractive and flavorful organic vegan food to Downtown Santa Cruz
Whether you’re a practicing vegan or not, the touches of herbs and spices used at Café Gratitude guarantee a memorable meal. For the most part, you can’t identify the dishes’ ingredients by their names on the menu, so at the first visit, I studied the descriptions over a Bison organic IPA ($5), a hoppy beer made in Ukiah. A cool glass of I am Bright ($4) followed. This probiotic kombucha tea, rich with antioxidants had a light fruity flavor.
Matthew and Terces Engelhart opened their first Café Gratitude in San Francisco's Mission District, focusing on sustainability and community. They now have a handful of locations and grow much of the produce at their farm in Vacaville.
It was a busy morning on the deck at River Cafe. Patrons enjoyed beverages from the organic coffee bar with Wi-Fi, a fresh flat of strawberries was delivered, and employees delivered large catering dishes.
Vegetarian breakfast burritos and frittatas ($6.50) with seasonal vegetables were ready to be heated, and could be embellished with Italian pork sausage ($1 and $1.50). I chose the frittata, cooked in a casserole like a crustless quiche. Airy egg custard was topped with greens, soft, crumbly goat cheese, and grill-marked tomatoes. It was served with smoky salsa and slices of sweet oranges.
I also enjoyed a scone ($3), which was crumbly, riddled with poppy seeds, and had a pleasant lemony flavor. The side of house-made jam was tart with crushed berries.
The previous owners of Vinocruz were selling off most of their wine before heading to New York so I bought a few bottles to write about—and the Perrucci Merlot was one of them. As it happens, J-P Correa, co-owner of the wine shop, needn’t have rushed into getting rid of his inventory because the business eventually sold and we can now look forward to the whole wine shop being restocked with good local wines.
The 2004 Merlot is quite exceptional. Smooth, rich and full-bodied with hints of caramel, vanilla and dark berries, it fills the senses with its lovely complexities. It certainly aged well in the bottle. I would imagine that the 2004 is hard to come by now, but the good news is that this month sees the release of Perrucci’s 2009 Merlot. Both wines retail for around $25.
Ristorante Italiano jumps into brunch, melding Italian flavors and American favorites
Out on the deck, the fog had just cleared, leaving us basking in the summer sun deciding on what to eat for brunch. The mural on the exterior wall at Ristorante Italiano comes to life in the early light, featuring faces of employees past and present in an animated Italian street scene.
Unfortunately, bottomless mimosas ($10) would hinder the day's remaining commitments, but other single-serving champagne specialties were delicious. The Bellini ($4.50) combined the sweet tartness of puréed canned peaches with a bit of the bubbly, while the Hibiscus, in which floated a plump raspberry, was red with cranberry juice. We sipped from our sparking flutes while Petula Clark, Dusty Springfield, Neil Diamond, and other light rock from the ’70s wafted softly through the air.
Across Soquel Drive from the old drive-in, Mel's Market and Deli sits ready and waiting to fuel treasure hunters and those awaiting patients at Sutter Surgery Center. The miniature market is stocked with almost every chilled beverage imaginable, as well as basic necessities for the kitchens of its surrounding neighborhoods. It looks tiny from the street, but the deli extends out behind an adjacent house, with a suitable amount of indoor seating. There are also a few tables in front, and two more in the back, where you might find neighbors chatting over lunch or offering snacks to the giant, furry, red dog Blue.
The Deviled Eggs ($1.25), their seasoned yolks flecked with paprika, were velvety without excessive mayonnaise.
Hunter Hill’s new release of their Old Vine Zinfandel 2009 ($25) is a bold and luscious wine that has been aged for one year in American oak. Grapes to make this fruit-forward wine come from the ancient Mohr-Fry Ranches’ vineyards in the Lodi appellation, resulting in a rich and full-bodied elixir. Zinfandel lovers will truly appreciate the complexities, aromas and flavors captured inside every bottle – and the full-bodied, jammy rich finish only leaves you wanting more. Fortunately, 250 cases were produced, so the winery is not going to run out any time soon.
Hunter Hill is a gorgeous place to visit. Owners Christine and Vann Slatter are justly proud of their property – now complete with stunning pond and water feature. Vines heavy with fruit extend up the hillside, and at this time of year everything is green and lush.