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.
We enjoyed thick strips of meaty Monterey Bay Calamari ($8.95), thinly breaded and fried, which were as tender as could be. The citrus flavor of the lime-chipotle aioli gave it a nice tartar sauce likeness, but I thought the pretty pink sauce was a bit light on the spice.
Rocco's kitchen was also spot-on with the second fish dish, a Blackened Salmon Sandwich ($8.95). (If you're not a fan of spices, the salmon can be grilled instead.) The large fillet, covered with herbs and spices, was cooked to an ideal medium doneness. Served on a lightly dressed sesame seed-studded Kaiser roll with red onions and tomatoes, it was wonderfully moist and tender. In place of fries, I opted for salad which was a colorful palette of lettuces, grape tomatoes and grated carrot, lightly dressed with chili-lime vinaigrette. A perfect deli dill pickle spear made it a meal.
The Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich ($7.95) was the perfect pre-game food on the day the Giants clinched the pennant from Philadelphia. Finely chopped beef was joined by tender mushrooms, caramelized onions and thick, melted provolone cheese on a ciabatta-style roll.
Other sandwiches include pulled pork, and a sub with homemade meatballs. You can also build a half-pound Black Angus or garden burger ($7.95) with such extras as a fried egg, sauerkraut and a selection of cheeses ($.75 each).
A nice list of meal-sized salads ($8.95 to $13.95) includes Romaine Caesar with shaved Parmesan, and spinach salad with bacon, egg, and feta cheese.
Pasta is served at both lunch and dinner. The Mac and Cheese ($7.95) is made with smoked Gouda, and Portobello Ravioli ($9.95) is sauced with either Alfredo or white wine-garlic.
Wafts of steam lifted the aroma of basil from Pete's Chicken Pesto Pasta ($10.95). Long, slender ridged tubes of rigatoni were dressed in a light, brothy sauce. It included large chunks of white chicken, chewy, sweet and tart sun-dried tomatoes, and sliced black olives.
At dinner you'll find an expanded menu with entrées such as New York Peppersteak ($19.95) served with vegetables and garlic mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, or fries.
Rocco's 503, 503 Water St., Santa Cruz, 425-1213. Beer and wine. Serving lunch daily 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., and dinner nightly from 5 p.m. Visit roccos503.com
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