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Aug 01st
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Dining Reviews

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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Dining - Dining Reviews

Custom Vinaigrette

Custom Vinaigrette

It's been barely three weeks since the ribbon-cutting at The True Olive Connection, and on a sunny Sunday, curious gourmets were sampling liquids from tiny plastic cups.

Shelves line the walls bearing stainless steel barrels of more than 40 flavors of olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar. Adjacent to each is a bottle from which tastes are poured. Mike Pappas, who opened the store with his wife Susan, suggested I first warm the cup with my hands to release aromas from the oils.

After I selected my favorites, Pappas filled bottles of oil or vinegar from the barrels. Each of them was corked and their shrink-wrap tops heated to ensure freshness.

The Pappas' distributor comes from a long line of Italian olive people. Her olives are cold-pressed at an unusually low temperature, which reduces the yield but results in a more flavorful product. Pappas is convinced that he has the freshest oil around.

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Dining - Dining Reviews

Touched by the Seafood

Touched by the Seafood

From Monterey Bay Calamari to New York Steak and portobello ravioli, Rocco's 503 has something for everyone
Some restaurant spaces sit vacant, seemingly forever, while we anxiously anticipate the unveiling of a menu which will guide us on new culinary adventures. But in the case of Rocco's 503, it seemed to appear overnight.

A bright neon sign, a fresh coat of sienna and celery-green paint, a tasteful arrangement of simple wall decor and Rocco's was open for business. They even built a window into the adjacent Callahan's to enable food service to the bar's patrons. Arriving for lunch I recognized the blue and orange bread plates of the previous establishment, now set on cloth-free tables.

Rocco's appetizers are a composite of standards and novelties. Fries and onion rings, chicken strips and buffalo wings are flanked by Callahan's nachos, made with steak fries instead of tortilla chips, and fried ravioli with marinara.

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Dining - Dining Reviews

Happy Afternoons

Happy Afternoons

Happy hours are appreciated for their budget-friendly snacks and beverages, but what if you tend to work too late to enjoy them?  Happy hour at Hawgs Seafood lasts until 6 p.m. every day, and, uniquely, on Friday and Saturday it begins at 11:30 a.m., and Sundays at noon.

On a Saturday afternoon, folks at the bar were enjoying football on two big screen TVs. On the covered patio, diners at tall tables basked in rays of the sun from its lower autumnal trajectory. We took a warm window seat in the dining room where we could enjoy the large, colorful underwater photographs of marine life.

Sipping refreshing house 'Ritas ($6) we perused the starters menu, where two to four dollars had been shaved off the price of each appetizer.

Each of the half dozen Oysters Asiago ($10) was topped with a bit of sautéed spinach and garlic and then Asiago cheese, which melted in the oven to form a rich, salty shell.

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Dining - Dining Reviews

Holy Calzone

Holy Calzone

Freshly made dough is featured at Michael's Pizza and Pasta

he Gurga family, hailing initially from Italy, and then Georgia and New York where they operated successful Italian eateries, previously owned Michael's Pizza in Aptos. A year ago, Michael's returned, this time in Capitola.

At this casual eatery, order at the counter, grab some plastic cutlery and pick a table. Sodas are self-serve, as is iced tea ($1.65/$1.95), which was strong and refreshing.

The Greek Salad ($6.50), served on a large oval platter, included hearts of romaine, wedges of Roma tomato, chunks of red onion, kalamata olives, strongly flavored feta cheese, and a delicious balsamic Italian dressing.

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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

 

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