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Apr 24th
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Dining

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

Dining Reviews

A+ Pho

A+ Pho

Can't decide between Chinese, Thai, or Vietnamese food? At Capitola's new Asian Express you can enjoy all three. As an added bonus, they make an exceptional bowl of pho (which approximately rhymes with duhhh), a Vietnamese noodle soup.

At Asian Express, nestled between Starbucks and Togo's in the Ross building of the Capitola Mall, various appetizers, entrées and side dishes wait in warming trays at the counter. Choose from a single entrée and side ($4.50), two entrées ($5.49), or three ($6.39).

The chow mein noodles were mixed with vegetables and pieces of omelet. Rice was fried with peas, carrots and eggs. Chili-flecked beef and carrots in a dark sauce were topped with roasted potatoes, and lollipop chicken drumettes were coated with a sweet, caramelized sauce. Two long Fresh Spring Rolls ($2.95) were stuffed with parsley, mint leaves, lettuce, green onions, noodles and a couple of big shrimps.

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Wine Reviews

Poetic Cellars & Wine Events

Poetic Cellars & Wine Events

Eggs Benedict and Red Wine
Do ham and eggs and red wine go together? Well, why not! On a recent Sunday, my husband and I decide to go out for brunch. It’s already 2 p.m. when we leave home, so we head to the Red Apple Café in Aptos—knowing they serve breakfast and brunch until 4 p.m. and I have a yearning for eggs Benedict. I take along a bottle of Poetic Cellars’ Mantra 2007—a wonderful blend of 45 percent Syrah, 45 percent Mourvedre and 10 percent Sangiovese—because in my book, it’s all right to drink wine any time after 11 a.m.—be it with breakfast, brunch or lunch.

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Dining Reviews

Nibble, Savor and Indulge

Nibble, Savor and Indulge

Fresh, flavorful ingredients bring color to the menu at Cafe Limelight
Whatever your appetite, the simple but inventive menu at Cafe Limelight meets numerous needs. A loveseat and plump upholstered chairs surround a coffee table, creating an ideal ambiance for an after-work wind-down with nibbles and a beverage. Local Bargetto Rosso ($6) paired nicely with a Single-cheese Plate ($5.95) and Salami ($4.50). French Comté, called the Gruyère of France, is a classic, hard, flexible cheese with nutty undertones. The earthy, dry Molinari salami was flecked with black peppercorns. The plate included dried cranberries, large kalamata olives, points of crisp, griddle-toasted bread, and glazed cashews encrusted with tiny sesame seeds.

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Dining Reviews

Same, Yet Different

Same, Yet Different

Kickback Coffee House and Eatery slid into the Seabright neighborhood offering free wi-fi, organic coffee, and a mostly familiar menu. A bit of renovation created a comfortable space, where local art is for sale on the cleanly painted walls.

You'll recognize the long list of breakfast burritos from Kickback's predecessor Chill Out Cafe (which still operates its store on 41st Avenue) including numerous vegetarian offerings.

The hefty No.18 Spicy Bird ($7.05) is swaddled in a large, supple flour tortilla. Real cubes of flavorful roasted turkey are combined with scrambled eggs, grated potatoes, tomatoes, tart green chilies, mashed avocado and Swiss cheese with their signature spicy sauce.

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Wine Reviews

Chaminade’s Farm to Table Dinner, Vine Hill Winery

Chaminade’s Farm to Table Dinner, Vine Hill Winery

It is easy to enjoy the exceptional food served at Chaminade when paired with wonderful wines. In this case, Vine Hill is the participating winery at one of the series of Farm to Table dinners I attended recently with my husband. These lovely events typically feature local organic farmers and one of our wonderful local wineries. Seating is outdoors (with heaters for the chilly evenings!), dinners are served family style at one long table, and the whole idea is to enjoy the experience of sharing food and wine together in a beautiful setting with a panoramic view of the Monterey Bay. With this in mind, hubby and I head to Chaminade early (the events starts at 5:30 p.m.)—totally prepared to catch maximum rays and a good glass of wine before dinner.

Hors d’oeuvres are already being passed, and Vine Hill is pouring whatever wine you prefer from their selection of chardonnay, pinot noir, syrah, zinfandel—and so on. Vine Hill also makes wines under other labels—Cumbre and Gatos Locos—so they cover a broad spectrum.

We immediately run into four friends and thoroughly enjoy spending the evening with them. We are all impressed with the participating farms – Surfside Chicken and A.C.E. Organics, and the excellent cuisine of executive chef Beverlie Terra, who periodically comes out to talk about the food and to check that we’re all having a good time.

Vine Hill Winery owner Nick Guerrero and vineyard manager Rachel Ormes are sitting opposite, so wine talk is flowing like champagne. I finish with a superb pinot noir—and, as the sun sets in a stunning golden glow over the ocean, I heave a sigh of total satisfaction. Food, wine and good conversation have all come together in perfect unison.

Vine Hill Winery, 2300 Jarvis Road, Santa Cruz, 427-0436. vinehillwinery.com. Chaminade Resort & Spa, One Chaminade Lane, Santa Cruz, 475-5600. chaminade.com. The next Farm to Table dinner is on Friday, July 23 and features the wines of Poetic Cellars. Tickets are $65 per person. Call Chaminade for reservations. The last two are on Aug. 20 and Sept. 24.

 


Wine Events
The Aptos History Museum presents A Night to Rally at Seascape Sports Club on Friday, July 16 from 6-8:30 p.m. This fundraising event takes place around the pool and showcases fine local wines and restaurants. Tickets are $40 in advance, which also allows you to see the quarterfinals feature tennis match of the Comerica Bank Challenger. Call for tickets 688-1467.
Seascape Sports Club, 1505 Seascape Blvd., Aptos, 688-1993. seascapesportsclub.com. The Comerica Bank Challenger tennis tournament, with world-ranked players, begins on July 12 and runs until July 18. Call Seascape Sports Club for tickets: 688-1993.
Dining Reviews

Piece of Cake

Piece of Cake

Freedom's Wooden Nickel Bar and Grill serves up huge plates of fresh, flavorful comfort food
It had been a decade since I last met friends at the Wooden Nickel Bar and Grill. The place had been described to me as a dive bar. But this 30-year old establishment is bright, with natural light from real windows. And from the boisterous laughter spilling into the adjacent restaurant as we waited for dinner, I could tell it was a welcoming neighborhood bar, the kind where everybody knows your name.

The restaurant seemed to be an addition, as rough-hewn timbers supported weathered bricks forming an open doorway from the bar. The decor was rather Pacific Northwest mountain cabin-style with moose wallpaper borders, carved wooden totems, and a mounted pair of antlers. On each table was a full complement of condiments including three styles of Beaver brand Oregonian mustard and A.1. Steak Sauce. Under the glass that protected the tablecloth, I was surprised to see a full-page wine list.

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Dining Reviews

A Handful — Period

A Handful — Period

The small parking lot on the corner of Mission and Bay streets was surprisingly full for a midweek lunch, and inside the new restaurant named burger followed by a period, (there are no capital letters anywhere on the menu), tables were filled with people enjoying World Cup Soccer on two large flatscreens.

Behind the counter (located at the Bay Street entrance) multi-colored chalk lettering describes the menu. Humboldt grass-fed beef from small, free-range, northern Californian farms is featured, but the house-made black bean-based veggie burger ($6.75) is popular.

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Wine Reviews

DaVine Cellars & Wine Events

DaVine Cellars & Wine Events

Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
A delectable wine and the mystical music of Indian sitar turn out to be a perfect partnership at Don Quixote’s in Felton – a well-known international music venue. My husband and I had gone there to listen to Ashwin Batish – a master sitar player who happens to be a local resident as well. I want a wine that matches the complexity of a raga – something sensuous with lots of body and dark fruit – so I take along a bottle of 2006 DaVine Cab.

I had sampled this interesting wine at MJA Vineyards (DaVine Cellars is an offshoot of MJA Vineyards) tasting room just a couple of weeks before – and bought a bottle ($30) to drink another time. Blackcurrant, tobacco and coffee aromas leap out immediately – plus hints of ripe plums and vanilla. Swirl this wine around the glass for a while and you’ll get a fabulous olfactory fix before you even take a sip. And when you do take a sip, all those fruit-forward flavors come together in one splendid inky mouthful. Here’s a Cab with a nutty, earthy quality that is pure pleasure.

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Dining Reviews

For the Birds

For the Birds

Little Caricias Café offers healthy alternatives to fast food on Beach Hill
Caricias Café sits on the small patio in front of Boca Del Cielas, a mauve Victorian bed and breakfast just up the First Street hill from the Boardwalk Bowl. Tico, the resident scarlet macaw, shimmied up the pole to her perch and surprised us with a loud squawk. The immense parrot then climbed down the backside of the wrought iron fence behind my daughter's chair, nibbled playfully on her sweatshirt, and gently grasped her elbow with zygodactyl feet.

On the whiteboard which describes the menu, I was surprised to see a fruit Pico de Gallo ($3). Spears of pineapple, honeydew melon, mango and cucumber were served with Tajin Clasico, a brand of slightly tart seasoning that includes powdered chilies and salt. I learned that dried chilies are enjoyed on everything in Mexico, especially fruit. Even better than Tajin was the spicier house-made version based on toasted, dried Japanese red chilies.

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Dining Reviews

Spot o' Tea?

Spot o' Tea?

Scones bring to mind tea time, crumpets and treacle. Since 1999, John and Yvette Bilanko have been selling mixes for these sweet breads to retail customers and restaurants alike. Now they return to their roots with a cafe, showcasing not only their baked goods, but savory fare as well.

Family photos line a wall of the cafe and store. Yvette, a first generation American, is shown on a Vespa outside of her Grandfather's Tuscan home. Raised in Chicago, the Bilankos married, had children and careers, and in 1991 opened an espresso bar and cafe. They used a scone mix, developed and sold by a group of graduate food science students, which was easily made with just heavy cream instead of butter and eggs. The resulting moist breads were hugely successful. Eventually the Bilankos bought the mix company and moved to Santa Cruz. Three weeks ago they were finally able to open the cafe.

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Best of Santa Cruz County 2014

The 2014 Santa Cruz County Readers' Poll Come on in, and have a look around. There’s a lot to see—hundreds of winners selected by thousands of GT readers across Santa Cruz County. So if some of this looks familiar, it’s probably because you helped make it happen. But there are always new things to discover, too—you could go to a different winner or runner-up every day in the Food and Drink category alone, and you’d be booked just about until next year’s Best of Santa Cruz County issue comes out.

 

Something Essential Disappears

Lunar and solar eclipses follow one another. Lunar eclipses occur at full moons, and solar eclipses at new moons. Two weeks ago at the full moon we had the blood red moon—a total lunar eclipse (the next one is Oct. 8). On Monday night, April 28 (new moon), as the Sun, Moon and Earth align, a solar eclipse (Sun obscured) occurs. Eclipses signify something irrevocably is changed in our world. The Sun is our essential life force. Monday’s new moon, 9 degrees Taurus, is also an annular solar eclipse when the Moon moves centrally in front of the Sun, yet does not cover the Sun completely. The Sun's outer edges, still visible, form a “ring of fire” around the Moon.

 

Sugar: The New Tobacco?

Proposed bill would require warning labels on sugary drinks Will soda and other saccharine libations soon come with a health warning? They will if it’s up to our state senator, Bill Monning (D-Carmel). On Feb. 27, Monning proposed first-of-its-kind legislation that would require a consumer warning label be placed on sugar-sweetened beverages sold in California. SB 1000, also known as the Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Safety Warning Act, was proposed to provide vital information to consumers about the harmful effects of consuming sugary drinks, such as sodas, sports drinks, energy drinks, and sweetened teas.

 

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Palate-Stretching 101

A wine education with Soif’s experts As a veteran of many weekend wine “seminars” at Soif, I have to confess that I’ve never known less (going in) and learned more (coming out) than I did last week at the Spanish Wine Tasting with ace rep Brian Greenwood. These are classy, casual events and it’s hard to imagine having this much flavor fun anywhere for $20.

 

Martin Ranch Winery

Sauvignon Blanc 2011 One of my favorite wines is Sauvignon Blanc, and this one made by Martin Ranch is particularly lovely. Bright, crisp and refreshing, it’s perfect to pair with fish and shellfish—and good for picnics as it has an easy screw-cap bottle. There’s nothing worse than setting down your blanket, pulling out your sandwiches—and then realizing you don’t have a corkscrew.

 

Foodie File: Red Apple Cafe

Breakfast takes center stage at Gracia Krakauer's Red Apple Cafe Before they moved to Aptos, Gracia and her husband Dan Krakauer would visit friends in Santa Cruz County and eat at the Red Apple Café all the time. Then they moved up here from Santa Monica five years ago, and bought the Aptos location (there’s a separate one in Watsonville) from the family who owned it for two decades.

 

How would you feel about a tech industry boom in Santa Cruz?

I feel like it would ruin the small old-town feeling of Santa Cruz. It wouldn’t be the same Surf City kind of vacation town that it is. Antoinette BennettSanta Cruz | Construction Management