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Apr 16th
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Dining Reviews

Dining - Dining Reviews

A Night To Remember

A Night To Remember

There’s enough fun, flavor and festive food at 515 Kitchen & Cocktails to keep you engaged for hours

Oh, these are crispy balls of ginger goodness.” Now, I was certain somebody at the dinner table uttered that statement. I just could not recall which one of us did. There were three of us at a recent visit to 515 Kitchen and Cocktails and you see, it’s the latter part of the moniker of the popular Santa Cruz restaurant that must have gotten us all into some (good) trouble.

“Cocktails.”

Well, in this case it was a bottle of 2008 Byron Pinot Noir from Santa Maria Valley, estate bottled and loads of fun for the palate—an embraceable treat with hints of anise, black cherries and Asian spices. Did we imagine the smoky vanilla?

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Dining - Dining Reviews

Spice Island

Spice Island

Whether it's the lunch buffet or a selection from the extensive menu, Royal Taj offers vegetarians and carnivores exotic flavors

Mintel Market Research calls Indian food the fastest-growing ethnic cuisine, and those of us who have enjoyed the world of spices at Royal Taj for almost 20 years know why. For those who are not familiar with Indian food, the daily lunch buffet ($8.95) provides a broad introduction. Alternatively, at both lunch and dinner, the menu offers main course specialties both à la carte and served as a meal with rice, flatbread, yogurt sauce and salad.

Dal refers to the family of pulses from lentils to garbanzo beans, which are stewed in vegetarian curries and ground into high protein flour for breads and batters. Dal Makhni ($7.50/$10.50) is primarily urad dal, a small black-skinned bean with a white interior. This thick curry, the color of Texas chili beans, was flavored with whole and ground spices, and mildly piquant.

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Dining - Dining Reviews

Adventures in Dining

Adventures in Dining

For a New Year's Resolution this year, I challenged myself to be increasingly adventurous, culinarily speaking. But as I planned my undertakings, I did not expect them to include sitting at the tip of the Municipal Wharf as a powerful storm moved in. But it was cold and dreary, and the previous deluge had overwhelmed my sump pump, extinguishing the water heater. I needed some hot clam chowder, and I needed it immediately.

The Dolphin Restaurant has served seafood for two decades in a tiny building, as well as through a take-out window. Since its purchase two years ago by Mark Gilbert Ventures, which also owns a large seafood grill as well as a gift shop on the wharf, a glass-walled patio has increased the seating dramatically.

It was odd that the wharf's toll booth was closed, as well as many businesses. I would learn later of a power outage. Colorful flags waved wildly and seagulls with wings extended hung motionless in the strong wind. A flock of feathery grebes and families of sea lions bobbed on brown and grey waves, which rolled by in rapid succession. A crack of lightning split the sky farther south.

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Dining - Dining Reviews

Full of SmoQe

Full of SmoQeThe new SmoQe brings BBQ and wood-fired pizzas to Aptos
The warm smell of smoke mingled with the scent of simmering barbecue sauce.  At SmoQe, food is prepared the way our ancestors cooked it—over a wood fire. And if the mostly full house on my last lunchtime visit is any indication, they are going to need a bigger parking lot.
Conversation echoed off the cement floor in the refurbished pizza parlor building. We took a seat and studied the menu, which posed difficult decisions, creative spelling aside. Although orders are placed at the counter, diners are treated to cloth napkins and real silverware, and the “plastic” soda cups are 100 percent compostable.
Our six meals were delivered sporadically, but all within a few minutes. A half pound of peel-and-eat Hot ’n’ Spicy Shrimp ($11) was seared in the wood-fired oven and seasoned with both chipotle and smoked paprika, giving them a depth of hot spice.
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Dining - Dining Reviews

Return to the Beach

Return to the Beach

It’s that wonderful time of year when wildly crashing waves put on an energetic winter show. There is also no wait for a table at favorite beachfront restaurants, including Beach Street Cafe, where you can enjoy champagne brunch any day of the week.

In this century-old stucco structure with worn wood floors, an extensive collection of art prints by Maxfield Parrish hang from paneled walls. His illustrations advertised products, graced the covers of magazines such as Hearst and Harpers, and brought life to children’s storybooks. Turning from the art, I looked out large windows to see the tips of the Main Beach waves.

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Dining - Dining Reviews

Staff for Life

Staff for LifeFabulous service and fresh, home-baked quality make Jeffery's a local favorite
On weekday mornings, waitresses bustle between tables with pots of hot coffee, and arms full of steaming plates. Five of them have each been with Jeffery's Restaurant for 30 years, and they greet numerous customers by name and with hugs.

Jeffery Walsh began bussing tables in his father's business, Golden West Pancakes, working his way up to vice president and general manager of the 18-restaurant chain. In the 1970s, he set out to differentiate his restaurants from competitors Denny's and IHOP by moving away from industriall packaged foods. Gravy should be made from the drippings of roasted beef, he thought, vegetables should be fresh, and soup should not come from cans. And so he set out to design a new menu. It was so well done that his chowder soon won second place at the annual Clam Chowder Festival.
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Dining - Dining Reviews

Lickety Split Organic

Lickety Split Organic

When I need a quick bite, a little spice, and nicely cooked greens, I stop by Charlie Hong Kong. Modeled after an Asian street food stand, the little kitchen which served hot dogs for years, dishes up noodle, and rice bowls, soups, and Vietnamese sandwiches using organic ingredients.

I like to sit on the patio under the arched green cover and eat with matching green chopsticks. The large varnished picnic tables are often shared by strangers—cafeteria-style. I helped myself to a cup of filtered water while waiting briefly for my order to be announced at the window.

The Salad Wrap ($2.75) was like a large fresh spring roll served with sweet-tart-salty Hoisin sauce. Crunchy, thin strips of carrot and daikon radish joined thin, white rice noodles, lettuce and a sliver of avocado in a thick, transparent rice paper wrap.

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Dining - Dining Reviews

Little House on Main Street

Little House on Main Street

Main Street Garden Cafe offers an array of fresh and organic fare for carnivores and vegetarians alike | by Karen Petersen

The dining room looks bigger in daylight, and as Main Street Garden Cafe serves brunch and dinner in the charming home that once housed Theo's Restaurant, the owners have big shoes to fill.

Light from a French door and numerous windows bounce off the glass-topped tables and shiny hardwood floors. Colorful lilies in stainless steel vases adorned each table. Comfortable armed captains chairs were upholstered in muted tan and teal.

The brunch menu includes homemade granola, Belgian waffles, salads, panini, pizza, lasagna, eggplant parmesan and pasta.

We walked around to the backyard, where a mesh-covered eating area dotted with propane heaters looks out over a healthy green lawn to the large herb and vegetable garden beyond. Co-owner Evan Borthwick (proprietor of Felton's Redwood Pizzeria) was tending to pizzas in the outdoor wood-fired oven.

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Dining - Dining Reviews

Fine Fast Food

Fine Fast Food

Next door to the renowned Bittersweet Bistro sits Bittersweet Express. More than a deli, this smaller sister caters to people on the go with an array of prepared and made-to-order specialties.

The long list of steaming beverages includes cappuccino, mocha chai, and white hot chocolate. In the mornings, breakfast burritos grilled like panini are filled with eggs, cheese, potatoes, onions and choice of meat.

At lunch, the handful of tightly packed tables inside were occupied, so we took a seat on the spacious front patio. Encircled by potted shrubs, healthy Peruvian lilies bloomed brightly, and numerous water bowls were filled for canine companions.

An Artichoke-Swiss Bacon Melt ($8), hot and crisp from the panini press, featured three smoky strips of bacon, their chewy ends extending beyond the long Cuban roll.  A hearty slice of melted cheese, sweet caramelized onions and herby artichoke pesto completed this satisfying sandwich.

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Dining - Dining Reviews

Critic's Picks

Critic's Picks

No matter your mood, there's a local restaurant to thrill you

I'm often asked to name my favorite local restaurant, which is an impossible task because it depends on what I need. Is it spice, greens, romance, comfort, or camaraderie? I love the pizza at five places, and if I crave a fast food burger, does that make it the best in town?

So I've looked back at the 100-plus restaurants I've written about this year, and come up with my most memorable culinary experiences.

I love to try new foods, and this year we welcomed back Vasili Karagiannopoulos at his The Greek in downtown Santa Cruz. Imam Bayaldi, a baked eggplant dish stuffed with tomatoes, pine nuts and feta, was one of the most flavorful vegetarian dishes I have experienced.

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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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Foodie File: Yan Flower

Yan Belleville has owned Yan Flower, an affordable Chinese restaurant in Downtown Santa Cruz, with her husband Raymond for eight years, and it’s a family affair. Her brother, sister, sister-in-law, and cousins work there too. Locals know the joint for its massive lunch specials starting at $4.

 

How would you feel about a tech industry boom in Santa Cruz?

I feel like it would ruin the small old-town feeling of Santa Cruz. It wouldn’t be the same Surf City kind of vacation town that it is. Antoinette BennettSanta Cruz | Construction Management

 

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

 

Comanche Cellars

Pinot Noir 2010 I first tasted Comanche Cellars Pinot when a friend brought a bottle to share over lunch at Center Street Grill in Santa Cruz. Upon trying it, I knew I had to find out more about it.