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Apr 16th
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Dining Reviews

Dining - 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 - 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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Dining - 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 - 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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Dining - Dining Reviews

North Coast Ghost

North Coast Ghost

Whether it's fine dining or a snack, at Moss Beach Distillery marvelous ocean views are on the house
During Prohibition, under the cover of darkness and fog, Canadian rum runners landed just north of Half Moon Bay at Moss Beach to unload their contraband. While most of their cargo was destined for San Francisco speakeasies, some of it made its way up the cliff to Frank's Roadhouse, a restaurant frequented by well-heeled celebrities and civic leaders. Today, the white building is home to Moss Beach Distillery and perhaps also to the charming but ghostly Blue Lady.

It was a pleasant stroll to the restaurant from the Seal Cove Inn, where our overnight package included a $50 gift certificate to the restaurant. Above the bar, which serves nice Bloody Marys, is a stamped tin ceiling. The overstuffed swiveling barstools, each with its own footrest, are fixed to the floor.

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Dining - Dining Reviews

Top o' the Mornin'

Top o' the Mornin'

Breakfast has returned to the little restaurant at the tip of the Seabright neighborhood where Bea's Koffee Kup once thrived. Today, Backstage Lounge, which now prepares dinner only for private parties, serves a unique array of breakfast and brunch specialties daily.

The stunning Crème Brûlée French Toast ($8.50) was an incredible treat. On two fat slices of golden brown bread with the airy texture of challah, custard was poured and drizzled with a swirl of dark molasses. Joining the main course was a pretty piped cone of butter, the texture of whipped cream, and a mix of bright berries, bananas and pineapple. The side of bacon ($3) was extra crisp.

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Dining - Dining Reviews

On a Roll

On a Roll

Sam's Chowder House brings New England-style seafood to Half Moon Bay
Perched on a cliff just south of Pillar Point Harbor, eco-friendly Sam's Chowder House offers sensational views and a respect for seafood that allows its flavors to shine. Voted Best Waterfront Dining last year by SF Gate's readership, its award-winning Executive Chef and partner Lewis Rossman seeks sustainable and local ingredients for his seasonal menus.

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Dining - Dining Reviews

Turf and Surf

Turf and Surf

Fragrant smoke rises from the grill where teriyaki-marinated pork baby back ribs ($6.99/lb.) cook slowly over indirect heat. I was surprised to find this delicacy at Soquel's Fish Lady.

Finally noticing the lettering that announced the availability of smoked fish, I wandered into the store where I found smoked ahi, trout, scallops, and of course wild salmon ($1.25/oz.). This moist pink fish with a mild smoky-sweet teriyaki flavor was topped with a coarse black pepper glaze. Although soft, it is dense enough to remain chunky when tossed with pasta. This fish lady will also smoke the fish you catch.

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Dining - Dining Reviews

Coastal Hideaway

Coastal Hideaway

At Costanoa's Cascade Bar and Grille, KOA melds magnificently with sustainable haute cuisine
I had been looking forward to our anniversary get-away weekend. In addition to the obvious, it held the opportunity to experience a trio of recommended restaurants. Driving north on Highway 1 on a Saturday morning, with bucolic farms on one side and flocks of parasurfers hovering over whitecaps on the other, cares quickly vanished.

Just two miles north of Año Nuevo State Reserve, we turned right onto tree-lined Rossi Road towards our first stop, Costanoa. We checked into our Douglas fir cabin and reviewed the day's extensive activity list. Sandwiched between face painting and burger BBQs was wine tasting at Cascade Bar and Grille.

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Dining - Dining Reviews

Packed with Peanuts

Packed with Peanuts

With June 12 rapidly approaching, I decided to prepare for National Peanut Butter Cookie Day. These snacks formed the basis of my first cooking lesson; placing balls of dough on a cookie sheet and smashing them with the tines of a fork to form the characteristic matrix on top. My mom only allowed cookies that we made from scratch, so needless to say I was frequenting the kitchen by the time of my seventh birthday.

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Aries Solar Festival

Sunday is Palm Sunday. Symbolizing victory and triumph, paradise, sacrifice and martyrdom, the Pisces World Teacher entered Jerusalem (City of Peace) on a donkey (signifying humility).

 

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.

 

Animal Magnetism

Bear, mouse dare to be friends in charming ‘Ernest and Celestine’ It’s not exactly Romeo and Juliet. It’s not even a romance, although it is a love story about two individuals separated by prejudice who find the courage to form an unshakable bond despite the rules and traditions that keep them apart.

 

Printer's Devil

Iconic editor Buz Bezore, who died last month at the age of 68, left a huge mark on Santa Cruz journalism   Eventually, it’s all a blur. You live long enough, and maybe a little too hard at times, so that when you hit the rewind button of faded memory, it moves so fast that you can hardly sort and gather the details. One scene skips to the next, and to the next, without proper editing or sequencing. Chronologies get distorted. Which came first: stealing the chickens or coloring the eggs?
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