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Aug 22nd
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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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Trending Now

Whether you live by the Vogue bible or choose to go into your day wearing what you slept in, odds are you wear clothes.

 

The Thought Form of Solution

It’s our last week of Leo before the sun enters Virgo (next Friday/Saturday). The planets this week make complex patterns and relationships (vibrational cadences and rhythms) with the outer planets, mainly Neptune—the planet that veils, obscures, protects and finally refines us. Neptune offers us entrance into a deeply spiritual sense of comfort and solace. Neptune is the personality ruler of Pisces (saviors of the world) and soul ruler of Cancer (world mother). “The fish goddesses who leapt from earth (Virgo) to water (Pisces) unitedly give birth to the Fish God (Christ, the Soul) who introduces the waters of life  (Neptune & Aquarius) into the ocean of substance (matter, mother bringing light to the world. Thus does Neptune work.” (Esoteric Astrology).

 

Final Cut

Cedar Street Video to close after 10 years at downtown location

 

Cultures Collide

No surprises, but lots to savor in foodie film ‘The Hundred-Foot Journey’
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Foodie File: Kauboi

Japanese-Western themed unites sushi with whiskey and beefgrill

 

How should Santa Cruz develop downtown around the San Lorenzo River?

Santa Cruz | Artist/Show Promoter

 

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

 

Have Mercy!

Looking for a frisky summer wine at a reasonable price? Look no further than Mercy Vineyards’ 2013 Sauvignon Blanc ($20). Richly textured “with an exotic flavor profile,” the wine reveals aromas of honeydew melon and honeysuckle, with anise appearing as a star attraction. Smidgeons of pineapple and honeycomb add a touch of sexiness to this well-balanced, easy-drinking wine, which pairs well with a variety of cuisine —especially ceviche, calamari and other not-too-heavy foods.