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Sep 23rd
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Dining Reviews

Dining - Dining Reviews

Mediterranean Madness

Mediterranean Madness

Oh, there are unforgettable feasts at Vasili’s
There are a few people you meet who absolutely love working with, presenting and/or serving food that you can’t help but be impressed by their infectious energy. Julie White is one of those local creatures.

As owner of Vasili’s Greek Restaurant on Santa Cruz’s Westside, White and her staff certainly know how to serve authentic Greek meals—hell, let’s just call them feasts—but what truly stands out is that you really can taste the “love” in all the food here. Four of us soon discovered this during a recent outing at the popular restaurant and the experience only seemed to remove a rather annoying eating inhibition I had imposed on myself earlier in the day. This isn’t the place to eat less. More is better, so … bring it on.

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Dining - Dining Reviews

Fanni Goes West

Fanni Goes West

The energetic owner of Caffe Lucio brings Italian specialties to Mamma Lucia's on Mission Street

Just a few signs remain that this restaurant last housed a Kentucky Fried Chicken; the comfortable red booths and the black and red counter. But with a touch of butter-yellow paint, soccer playing on two flat screen televisions, the aroma of tomato sauce and photographs of Mamma Lucia's food, Lucio Fanni of Caffe Lucio and al dente, has turned it into an Italian Cafe. Here, the chicken tortellini soup is made from scratch, the soft loaves of bread with tiny air hole-bubbled interiors are house-made, and doggie treats are sold to patrons' pets.

The menu is written on large blackboards behind the counter where we placed our order before gathering plates and silverware from the neat stacks and finding a table. Since signs on each table reminded us to bus our own tables, I was pleasantly surprised that our order was brought out to us.

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Dining - 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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Dining - 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 - 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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Dining - 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 - 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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Dining - 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 - 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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Dining - Dining Reviews

Tread Lightly and Carry a Big Appetite

Tread Lightly and Carry a Big Appetite

At Lightfoot Cafe and Catering, a celebrity chef and energetic teens bring something truly unique to your table

The banquet room was arranged typically for a fundraising dinner. We were welcomed first by a wine- tasting booth, beyond which a sea of white tablecloths set with sparkling water glasses encircled the dance floor. More tables were loaded with silent auction temptations. Upon closer inspection, I noticed subtle surprises. Pieces of twine tied herb stems to natural fiber unhemmed napkins. And there was nothing ordinary about the activity in the kitchen. For this was a presentation by Lightfoot Industries, a vocational training program for at-risk youth which will host three suppers in December at its new cafe.

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The Peace Equation

Sunday is the United Nations’ International Day of Peace, a global peace-building day when nations, leaders, governments, communities and individuals are invited to end conflict, cease hostilities, creat 24 hours of non-violence and promote goodwill. Monday is Autumn equinox as the Sun enters Libra (right relations with all of life). The Soul Year now begins. We work in the dark part of the year (Persephone underground) preparing for the new light of winter solstice. Tuesday to Wednesday is the Virgo new moon festival. We know two things about peace. “The absence of war does not signify peace.” And “Peace is an ongoing process.” In its peace-building emphasis, the UNIDP, through education, attempts to create a “culture of peace, understanding and tolerance”. Esoterically we are reminded of the peace equation: “Intentions for goodwill (and acting upon this intention) create right relations with all earth’s kingdoms which create (the ongoing process of) peace on earth.” At noon on Sunday, in all time zones, millions of participating groups will observe a moment of silence for peace on earth. Bells will ring, candles will be lit, and doves released as the New Group of World Servers recite the Great Invocation (humanity’s mantram of direction). To connect with others around the world see www.cultureofpeace.org    Let us join together with the mother (Virgo). Goodwill to all, let peace prevail on earth. The dove is the symbol for the day.
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