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Sep 18th
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Dining Reviews

Dining - Dining Reviews

On a Roll

On a Roll

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.

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Dining - Dining Reviews

Good and Grilled

Good and Grilled

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.

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Dining - Dining Reviews

I am Hungry

I am Hungry

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.

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Dining - Dining Reviews

Under the Sycamores

Under the Sycamores

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.

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Dining - Dining Reviews

Mediterranean Morning

Mediterranean Morning

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.

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Dining - Dining Reviews

Mama Mel's Kitchen

Mama Mel's Kitchen

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.

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Dining - Dining Reviews

Ono Hawaii Calls

Ono Hawaii Calls

Pono Hawaiian Grill brings island magic to Cypress Lounge

Cypress Lounge now shares its space with Pono Hawaiian Grill, brought to you by “Braddah” Timmy Hunt who previously co-owned Aloha Island Grill. The menu holds a bounty of traditional Hawaiian dishes and those influenced by Asian cuisine.

The Lounge’s interior now sports island-themed art, and the large patio has been revitalized with tropical ginger plants, woven reed wallpaper, and a roof thatched with palm fronds. Aloha Fridays feature live Hawaiian music.

Appetizers ($2.50 to $7.95) such as Hawaiian Fresh Spring rolls with pineapple-macadamia nut hoisin sauce, and Manapua dumplings filled with char siu pork make perfect bar snacks. Salads ($4.50 to $6.95) include Da Mana Salad, a vegetarian mixture of tofu poke, brown rice and vegetables.

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Dining - Dining Reviews

Delicious Detour

Delicious Detour

Stromboli is an island near Sicily with an active volcano that is known for spewing fireballs of lava. It is also the name of the puppeteer in Disney’s rendition of Pinocchio, which I was reminded of while visiting the Magic Kingdom. This brought to mind my favorite Stromboli, an edible masterpiece created by Tony Dimaggio Sr. On my way home from the Diridon Airport I hungrily detoured 10 miles south on Highway 87.

Dimaggio emigrated from Sicily to New York in 1958, moving later to Pennsylvania, and then to San Jose, where he opened his restaurant in 1977. Dimaggio’s was one of the stops after company softball games. In addition to Stromboli, I fondly recall pitchers of beer, garlic bread, pizza, lasagna and laughter.

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Dining - Dining Reviews

Welcome back to Rio

Welcome back to Rio

Good times are once again rolling at Cafe Rio

We couldn't get a dinner reservation until 7:30 on a Tuesday night, demonstrating that Cafe Rio has opened with a bang. Laughter filled the air as families finished their meals, while the numerous servers and staff members buzzed around the large dining area.

I sipped house cabernet ($5) from Butterfield Station, full of ripe berries, while dipping pieces of soft-crusted baguette in olive oil which was gently seasoned with bits of garlic and herbs.

B. & B. Seared Ahi Tuna ($16) appears as an appetizer at dinner and also on the bar menu. Strips of fish with smoky charred surfaces and watermelon-pink interiors were served with searing soy mustard dressing on a bed of sautéed onions and multicolored bell peppers.

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Dining - 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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