Santa Cruz Good Times

Nov 25th
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dining_BackstageBackstage Lounge quickly dishes up lusciously flavored organic Asian-fusion specialties

Culinary integrity in the midtown-Seabright neighborhood just keeps getting better. And newcomer Backstage Lounge continues the trend, serving Asian-inspired dinners nightly by the Rio Theatre.

Many inexperienced restaurateurs have come and gone at this location since the charming Bea and her Koffee Kup retired. Although the Lounge may be new to the neighborhood, the proprietor, David Jackman, is no neophyte. He has owned Chocolate at Bookshop Santa Cruz for a decade, and before that, So Say We.

Tablecloths with shiny copper-colored brocades of Asian motifs shimmered in the small room where lights with faceted glass shades hung from the ceiling. Bright blue walls added excitement, and an array of jazzy music like you might hear in a 1940s supper club supported the classy ambiance.

A stainless steel carafe of chilled water appeared on our table.

From the small wine list we chose a bottle of Line Shack Syrah ($26), a full-bodied, hearty red, chosen to pair with Backstage's spices. Even the local beers offered are strongly flavored to complement the food.

The appetizer special, Duck and Mango Steamed Buns ($6), arrived in a matter of minutes. Two billowing balls of white were stuffed with the sweet gingered mixture. A trio of condiments lent a contrasting flavor to each bite. The tan Hoisin sauce was soy sauce salty, house-made chili oil held crisp and smoky seared pepper flakes, and the Chinese mustard was kicked up a notch with the addition of wasabi. A fourth flavor, brought from the kitchen, was a sweeter Hoisin with the essence of five-spice.

The main courses arrived soon after. Tender meat fell off the bones of the Papaya Roast Pork Ribs ($14). Chunks of papaya, the color of roasted sweet potato, joined the ribs in a dark, savory sauce.

I was offered a choice between 'spicy' and 'regular' with the Hot and Spicy Hunan Chicken ($12). Not afraid of fire, my dish came with an extra helping of whole, dried, blackened red chilies, which I cut and carefully meted amongst my bites. Featuring a generous amount of Rocky free-range dark meat, it was brightened by organic bok choy, and strips of carrots and bamboo shoots. A large serving of organic, long grain Jasmine rice radiated a sweet floral aroma.

For dessert, a unique Coconut Chocolate Truffle ($3) was shaped like the Matterhorn. The dark, bittersweet chocolate exterior was dappled with shreds of coconut, the coconut mousse inside was incredibly creamy and light, like whipped cream. (Apparently, the mousse is frozen before taking its chocolate bath.)

Although Backstage is known for its rapid service, we felt quite welcome to linger over our last glass of wine, savoring the perfect balance of yin and yang, spicy and mild, sweet and savory. Photo Credit: Karen Peterson

Backstage Lounge, 1209 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz, 469-9900. Beer and wine. Serving dinner nightly 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Visit

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