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Sep 18th
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Dining

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

Dining Reviews

Shop, Eat, Repeat

Shop, Eat, Repeat

Barraged by brand names and national chains at the Capitola mall, it's comforting to find sustenance in a local cafe. Whether you're frantically filling Christmas wish lists or surfing end-of-year sales, Cafe Laila by the fountain will warm you up, tide you over, assuage your sweet tooth or fill you up with a freshly made sandwich.

For cold liquid refreshments, Cafe Laila serves various flavors of bubble tea with chewy tapioca pearls, frappuccino, a selection of iced teas and coffees, as well as sodas, Gatorade and energy drinks. Smoothie flavors ($3.95/$4.50) include Matcha Green Tea and banana-pineapple-mango.

There is also a full line of coffees and teas, and this time of the year Cafe Laila steeps holiday special mochas and lattes including gingerbread, peppermint and pumpkin pie. I relaxed with a soothing 12-ounce eggnog mocha ($4) while planning the rest of my day.

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Wine Reviews

Walters

Walters

Pinot Noir 2007 – A Gorgeous Wine for the Holidays

Raking around in Vinocruz, I come across a Walters wine–a label I hadn’t seen before. It’s exciting to find something new and local and then learn about the winemaker and what has propelled them to make wine commercially. Most winemakers start off as novices–making wine in their own backyard for the simple joy of it. But the truly dedicated winemaker, who is making a good enough product to be sold commercially, also has the hard slog of getting to that point. And even when all the bottling, corking and labeling is done, the new winemaker still has to get his name out there and his wine sold.

Certainly a good start is getting your wine into Vinocruz, the Santa Cruz wine shop dedicated to selling and promoting locally made wines. This lovely wine destination is also a great place to sample our local wines and to meet winemakers in our area at special events held in the store.

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Dining Reviews

Comfort Food

Comfort Food

With cozy booths, professional service and an ever-evolving seasonal menu, a visit to Vida was delightful

We often enjoy appetizers at Vida Lounge and Grill, but it had been some time since we sat down for dinner. In the meantime, Noah Thorwaldson had become the Executive Chef and the new menu was inviting. I was pleased to encounter the same level of service that I had in the past. We were greeted warmly at the door and ushered to a softly-lit booth where our server was extremely knowledgeable with respect to the ingredients, and very thoughtful.

Vida is also known for its creative cocktails, as was evidenced by full attendance in the bar area on a Saturday evening. The legendary Mojito ($7) includes Myer's rum, fresh mint and lime and sparkles with a splash of soda. Slices of cucumber and the pulp of freshly squeezed lemon juice floated on top of the Cucumber Martini ($9), made with smooth Hendrick's Scottish gin and French St~Germain elderflower liqueur. The vodka Ginger Rodgers ($7) with muddled mint and fresh lemon was seasoned with spicy pieces of fresh ginger.

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Dining Reviews

Desperately Seeking Spumoni

Desperately Seeking Spumoni

Where I grew up, pistachios were red and arrived in Christmas gift baskets. My sisters and I would finish off the bag with split thumbnails and pink fingers to show for it.

Later, I found pistachio ice cream in France as ubiquitous as chocolate. Although I wondered silently why it was green and found its flavor odd, surprisingly enough it was familiar, reminding me of spumoni.

As a child, the occasional trip to San Francisco with my grandparents typically included an Italian dinner, most often in the Doll Room at Veneto's. The meals would invariably begin with a Shirley Temple and end with spumoni. It's not that I ever craved this frozen finale, but it was part of our ritual and a rare opportunity for dessert was not to be dismissed. Swirls of chocolate, pink and alien green ice creams contained nameless bits of things found in holiday fruitcakes, but it was cold and very sweet.

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Wine Reviews

Ridge Vineyards

Ridge Vineyards

Three Valleys 2008
When seven women go out for dinner, it’s not necessarily guaranteed that the noise level will be kept to a minimum. We decided to dine at Center Street Grill because we could have our own cozy corner in the spacious restaurant and a few decibels of heated conversation would not disturb other diners.

Center Street Grill now has a full bar, so it’s a good spot to go for that after-work glass of wine or gin and tonic. They carry some Santa Cruz Mountains wines, too, a fact which always gains high marks in my book.

Ridge Vineyards has long been a member of the Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association (SCMWA) and is a very well known and prestigious winery. I was pleased to see Ridge on the wine menu at Center Street Grill and I ordered a bottle of Three Valleys ($30) for us all to share.

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Dining Reviews

Sizzling Satiation

Sizzling Satiation

Chef Liu in Scotts Valley offers a wide selection of Hunan, Cantonese and Szechuan specialties, including an incredible Hot Pot.

I had high hopes for lunch when I encountered a practically packed parking lot at Chef Liu. Opening the back door, I slid into a warm and decidedly fragrant room.

Although previously known as Mei Garden, the restaurant has not been related to its namesake on Ocean Street for more than a decade. Last year, to avoid confusion, the owners gave it a new and eponymous name.

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Dining Reviews

Mushroom Surprise

Mushroom Surprise

By night it's billed as "Capitola's funnest bar and grille" with Thursday Karaoke, live bands on Fridays and Saturdays and Sunday Pro Jams. But when the morning sun filters through its front doors, the Esplanade's Fog Bank morphs into a family-friendly breakfast nook.

From the beautifully crafted bar draped with fishing nets, came a Bloody Mary ($5.25), heartily flecked with black pepper and horseradish in a slender Collins glass, complete with a spiced green bean and pimiento-stuffed olive. The morning brew was served with class in pedestaled glass Irish Coffee cups.

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Wine Reviews

Roudon-Smith

Roudon-Smith

Pinot Noir 2008

Roudon-Smith is one of the better-known wineries in the area. Their wines are to be found in good wine stores and on the menu of many local restaurants. If you haven’t visited the winery’s tasting room down the long and winding Bean Creek Road in Scotts Valley, then you’re in for a treat. Hidden away under a redwood canopy, it’s in a beautiful bucolic setting. And some good wines await you when you get there.

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Dining Reviews

Beachfront Brunch

Beachfront Brunch

Bluewater's weekend brunch mixes steak house favorites with farm fresh eggs

Certainly one of the most wonderful blessings we have in Santa Cruz is oceanfront dining. The bay changes faces with the seasons; sometimes shrouded in mystery by fog, sometimes tossing sparkling diamonds, or like last weekend, dimpled and grey as we enjoyed brunch at the Bluewater Steakhouse.

Bluewater is a cozy little place with sofas and tall tables on one side, and dining tables around the bar which are lit by a wall of windows facing the water. We took a seat in the corner nook on comfortable bench seats. From this up-some-steps vantage point I could keep my eye on a football game unfolding on the large screen. The bright interior is much improved over its predecessor in the 1980s, where a server named David at Mac's Patio treated my grandmother like a movie star.

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Dining Reviews

A Taste of Portugal

A Taste of Portugal

Is it linguiça or chouriço? This debate apparently persists in Portugal and in America's Portuguese communities alike. These sausages are essential to Brazilian feijoada black bean stew and Portuguese caldo verde, a potato soup made green with fresh, thinly sliced kale. The sausages are smoked, and very different from the finely ground raw offal version we know locally as chorizo.

According to David Leite, a renowned food writer who grew up in a Portuguese neighborhood in Fall River, Mass., (as did Emeril Lagasse), what you call it depends on where you grew up. There are a wide variety of styles from lean to fatty, and mild to spicy named either way. The only agreement Leite mentions, is that linguiça is more slender.

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Catwalk on the Wild Side

Meet the artists and designers behind this year’s edition of FashionART, SantaCruz’s most outrageous fashion show

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Feeding Frenzy

Culinary journey ‘The Trip to Italy’ isn’t the foodie film you’d expect 

 

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From Google to the government to data brokers, why your privacy is now a thing of the past
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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

 

Santa Clara Wine Trail

My memories of growing up in England include my mother pouring port after Sunday dinner—and sometimes a glass of sherry before dinner. My family didn’t drink much wine back then, but we certainly made up for it with the port and sherry.