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Aug 21st
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Dining Reviews

Dining - Dining Reviews

Make Yourself at Home

Make Yourself at Home

The service at Felton's Rockys Cafe is sure to put a smile on your face

In the rear of a vintage mountain home, neighbors enjoyed breakfast and lunch just steps from Highway 9. Relaxing at Rockys in Felton reminded me of cozy roadside meals eaten after a day of Sierra skiing. The lone server, with impeccably manicured nails, wore a smile that could brighten the grayest of mornings.

The restaurant is mostly windowed, with views of young redwoods. On the rustic recycled wood walls hang framed portraits of smiling pooches. The yard may not be as idyllic as it could be, but we came for the food and the service.

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Dining - Dining Reviews

Far from Plastic

Far from Plastic

In the mood for Japanese food, I sauntered into the little Totoro Sushi on Mission Street. Presented with both a lunch and special sushi menu, I knew immediately what I wanted. Something I had first seen, but made of plastic.

In Japan it is common to see plastic food samples in an eatery's windows. The idea for these replica foods materialized in the 1920s when a young entrepreneur made wax molds to help restaurants show customers how new western dishes appeared. Faux food has since grown into a huge industry. Each dish is custom made, based on photographs and sketches of a chef's dish. A silicon mold is taken of the actual food, and expert artists make plastic sauces, condiments and garnishes. Sometimes, the replica appears more appetizing than the original.

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Dining - Dining Reviews

Long Live the Linguini

Long Live the Linguini

Celebrating 30 years, Ristorante Italiano's bright flavors and generous portions ensure its distinction as a local favorite

I'm fortunate to occasionally work in Branciforte Plaza, where the aroma of Ristorante Italiano's roasting garlic wafts across the parking lot. Many reasonably priced specials grace the lunch menu, which I happily order to savor in the office. One day, as the sun set, waves of laughter emanate from the heated patio deck, where groups gather to relax after work, and families celebrate birthdays. On the building's exterior, an extraordinary three-story mural depicting an Italian avenue adds a whimsical touch.

In the restaurant's main dining area, where ceiling joists are painted a lively green and autographed straw-encased Chianti bottles commemorate dinners of the past, subdued lighting and romantic booths set the stage for the spectacle of Italian specialties. A ceiling fan turned slowly, barely rustling the thin leaves of a tall parlor palm in the solarium-like front room.

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Dining - Dining Reviews

All Sauced Up

All Sauced Up

On an unassuming stretch of Soquel Drive, El Chino Mexican Deli Restaurant occupies a narrow storefront.

Inside, lively fiesta music plays on the stereo, decorative eaves with clay tiles jut from the walls, and healthy live plants crawl across rafters, creating the comfortable illusion of dining in a sidewalk cantina.

The list of weekday lunch specials ($5.85 to $7.50) includes avocado-chicken salad, enchiladas, chili rellenos and carne azada burritos. We were drawn to the generously plated house specialties, each of which occupied half of their oval pottery platters.

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Dining - Dining Reviews

Two Sweet for Words

Two Sweet for WordsBehold the beautifully luscious treats of local chocolatiers, Richard Donnelly and Ian and Mary Rose Mackenzie
Behind an attractive storefront on Mission Street in Santa Cruz, Richard Donnelly makes internationally award-winning chocolates and truffles. At the front door, customers gather in the small retail space. Bookshelves and tables hold pre-packaged sweets, and a glass cabinet displays available truffle flavors. In the open kitchen, chocolate is being mixed and candies are laid out for packaging. Much of the work here is done by hand—the hand of a master.
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Dining - Dining Reviews

Offal Good

Offal Good

Enlightened chefs insist that if we are to eat animals, we must respect them. This calls for a humane life and death, as well as making use of everything they sacrificed. Pondering that philosophy, I waited in line at Taqueria Vallarta studying the new brightly-colored, backlit menu, where lengua (tongue) is one of many meat choices. As I waited at a small table by the window, I was apprehensive. The tongue, after all, was designed to withstand bites.

Waiting to eat something I've never before tried brought forth an unattractive memory. After eating blood sausage as a teenager at a pique-nique on a beach in Normandy, my intestines were so immediately insulted that I sprinted to the nearest WC.

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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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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.