Santa Cruz Good Times

Nov 30th
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Comfort Food

dining_vidaWith cozy booths, professional service and an ever-evolving seasonal menu, a visit to Vida was delightful

We often enjoy appetizers at Vida Lounge and Grill, but it had been some time since we sat down for dinner. In the meantime, Noah Thorwaldson had become the Executive Chef and the new menu was inviting. I was pleased to encounter the same level of service that I had in the past. We were greeted warmly at the door and ushered to a softly-lit booth where our server was extremely knowledgeable with respect to the ingredients, and very thoughtful.

Vida is also known for its creative cocktails, as was evidenced by full attendance in the bar area on a Saturday evening. The legendary Mojito ($7) includes Myer's rum, fresh mint and lime and sparkles with a splash of soda. Slices of cucumber and the pulp of freshly squeezed lemon juice floated on top of the Cucumber Martini ($9), made with smooth Hendrick's Scottish gin and French St~Germain elderflower liqueur. The vodka Ginger Rodgers ($7) with muddled mint and fresh lemon was seasoned with spicy pieces of fresh ginger.

We decided quickly on an appetizer of Cheese Fun-dido ($9), a showy skillet of violet flames which leapt from the surface of molten manchego and Parmesan cheeses. Occasionally scooping up a whole roasted clove of garlic to mound on the crisp bread, stretchy strings extended from the skillet to the plates. In the mouth, it was smooth and creamy, tempered with a bit of Madera wine.

In the mixed greens Dinner Salad ($7), shaved carrots and grape tomatoes were dressed with herbal citrus-balsamic vinaigrette. The plate of Romaine Salad ($9) was drizzled with thick, sweet and tart balsamic vinegar. It seemed like the entire heart of the head of lettuce was topped with chewy pieces of salty pancetta bacon, tomatoes, and razor-thin red onions and drizzled with tasty Gorgonzola blue cheese vinaigrette.

While the menu is not lengthy, it is deep and offers interesting medleys of ingredients which made our decisions difficult. Pasta dishes ($14 to $16) included truly autumnal sweet potato gnocchi with sage Carbonera. From the meat entrées ($13-$22), I was tempted by the Duck Confit with crispy polenta as well as the free range Chicken Marsala with horseradish mashed potatoes.

Knowing that Vida conforms to Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch for sustainability, we felt confident splurging on fish. A rich seafood aroma accompanied the bowl of Rio de Janeiro Stew ($19). Salmon, scallops, shrimp, tender rings of calamari, and red bell peppers simmered in a silky, savory coconut brodo stock.

Scallops are sometimes harvested by dredging, a process that rakes the seafloor, damaging habitat and marine life. At Vida, five large Diver Scallops ($22), so named because they were hand-harvested, sat atop tender crimini mushroom risotto with bright bunches of al dente broccolini. The soft medium-rare shellfish were drizzled with paprika oil and sweet balsamic reduction. Warm and filling, it was the perfect prescription for a drizzly fall evening.

Vida Lounge and Grill, 1222 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz, 425-787. Full bar. Serving dinner Sunday through Thursday 4:30 p.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 4:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. Happy hour Tuesday through Friday 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. and all night Monday.

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