Santa Cruz Good Times

Dec 01st
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Still Divine

dining_casablancaCasablanca Restaurant continues to strike a memorable culinary chord
Should Pacific Avenue be closed off to traffic? Was the destruction of the Cooper House a horrible mistake? Where on the Earth is the best place to wear a mankini?

Dear Lord, with these questions floating about our striking ocean-view table, it was going to be a long night at Casablanca Restaurant. Not that the four of us minded. This was Casablanca, after all, the famed Santa Cruz destination right off Main Beach, an establishment that’s been hailed both for its breathtaking scenery and its culinary prowess. Besides, this had to be the first time the subject of mankinis—an odd amalgam of a bikini and Speedo for the testosterone set—came up in a dinner conversation before a meat dish appeared.

And so it went, on a chilly, rainy evening. We took the issues to heart, giving them equal contemplation while sipping our 2003 Sones Cellars Pinot Noir, which was surprisingly not too “fruity” and which served as a perfect form of liquid therapy in between storms. And the bottle bit the dust shortly after the appetizers arrived.

About those … well, what a dreamy pair these two dishes were: Fried Brie with Jalepeño Jelly ($11.95) and Fried Calamari with Thai Chile Lime Sauce ($12.95). That sounds like a “fried” marathon, but what’s interesting to note about both apps, is that neither felt heavy on the palate—or beyond it. Actually, the former provoked a whimsical, school-girl-like high-pitched gush, “You’ve got to be kidding me?” from one of us. (OK, it was me, but what can I say, I was jazzed about the blend of jalepeño in the jelly—not overpowering but still significant enough to get your attention.) The light chile lime sauce served the calamari well—again, the calamari didn’t appear to be as heavy as many other calamari dishes tend to be. This sort of “just-right”-Goldilocks feeling would continue throughout the evening in other dishes.

But first, we welcomed a bottle of Savannah-Chanelle Vineyards 2004 Pinot Noir. And what a serious creature this was. Big and bold, a bit jammy and Zinny, it leaves a vivid impression in the nose and fine after-effects in the noggin. (If you really dig Pinot, this is the one for you.)

Meanwhile, some answers arrived: “Pacific Avenue should, indeed, be closed to traffic,” somebody chimed in. “It’s ridiculous how it’s set up now,” one of the gals at the table offered. I was well into my Casablanca House Salad with Dried Cherry Vinaigrette and Candied Walnuts ($5.95)—yeah, it’s as good as it sounds—when I sighed. “Please! A one-way sign here, another one-way sign there. It’s no wonder we’re all schizophrenic driving around in that maze.” Somebody laughed. “Speaking of schizophrenics, did you know that early in the morning you can find …”

I raised my hand. “Just pour me some more wine.”

Our entrees arrived. Have you ever had one of those moments where the dish looks so great, you don’t want to mess it up by letting your fork and knife invade it? Well, that was certainly the case with my Grilled Salmon with Citrus Vin Blanc ($22.95). This significant serving of salmon was cooked to perfection. The hearty mashed potatoes came accented nicely with fresh chives. If you order this, try breathing in the aromas for a moment before diving into the meal. There’s something magical about those chives, I’m sure of it. (And no, I don’t believe this was the wine talking.)

We took turns sampling each other’s entrees. The gals at the table ordered the Dungeness Crab-Stuffed Prawns with Cous Cous ($22.95)—insert “happy face” here—and a Grilled New York Steak with Bourbon Peppercorn Demi-glaze ($29.95). I’m not a big meat-eater any more, so it must have been my iron-rich meat-and-potatoes Chicago upbringing that kept me pining for more of the steak. I found it delightfully smoky and its sauce reduction really inviting. The stuffed prawns were a wildly filling surprise and held just the right amount of moisture and tenderness. (Sometimes, dishes like this arrive and the insides are too dry. Not here.) One dish more to try though: Rigatoni Pasta Tossed with Roasted Garlic, Onions, Mushrooms, Feta Cheese and Roasted Tomato Sauce ($17.95) It comes across like a party in a bowl—the roasted sauce stands out.

More answers: “Destroying the Cooper House was a terrible mistake!” one of us noted, and we all seemed to agree. The 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake may have shaken her up, but we each felt there could have been a way to save the dear, old CH.

But, alas, I was aleady diving into a Chocolate Mousse Pie—insane, I know, but it’s a rich creation with a unique, powerful dense culinary overcoat and an interior world that is surprisingly lighter than you’d think, even for mousse. Then, at last, I was alerted to the fact that the best place on Earth to wear a mankini is on the sexy beaches of South America.

Well, that may be true, but here, across the street from Santa Cruz’s Main Beach, there’s something more handsome, perhaps even more memorable. Casablanca Restaurant has withstood the test of time since the late ’70s. And, in a day and age when many of those around us cannot seem to stop Twittering about their experiences long enough to actually create “real” ones, it’s a refreshing treat to come to an old favorite and cherish something that is both familiar and good for the soul—a divine ocean view, one of the best wine cellars in the county and intelligent food design by somebody who clearly loves what he is doing: Chef Aaron Cunningham. No doubt manager Scott Cater’s dedication filters into this winning mix, too.

But Casablanca has one more admirable quality: A dining room that provokes real conversation over a real meal. That may be “old fashioned,” but honey, it will always be delicious.

This article is part of a series of monthly outings designed to inspire the marriage of great meals and savory conversation. Casablanca Restaurant, 101 Main Street, Santa Cruz, 426-9063, Open 5-9 p.m. daily. Pictured: New York Steak with Bourbon Peppercorn Demi-glaze.

Comments (1)Add Comment
written by erick schwartz, April 07, 2010
Oh yeah, one more distinction, Casablanca is possibly Santa Cruz's most expensive restaurant.

And for conversation like that, I think McDonalds would be most suitable.

Write comment
smaller | bigger


Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share


Santa Cruz Gives

A look at the organizations we’re asking you to support in our new holiday giving campaign


Gratitude—For Each New Morning With its Light

The full moon of Wednesday brings light to Thanksgiving (Thursday) under the Sagittarius Sun and Mercury. Mercury in Sag offers humanity the message (Mercury) of thankfulness and joy (Jupiter). No other sign represents food, music and joy better than Sagittarius (only Pisces, when not in despair). Beginning on Thanksgiving, we can list what we’re grateful for. Then we can continue the list, creating a daily Gratitude Journal. What we are grateful for always increases in our lives. On Thanksgiving Saturn/Neptune square (challenging) is in full effect. This can manifest as traditions not being honored, disappearing, falling away. It can also create a sense of sadness, confusion, of things not working out as planned. It’s best to be as simple as possible. And to focus on gratitude instead. Gratitude is a service to others. It is scientifically and occultly a releasing agent. Releasing us from the past, allowing our future—the new culture and civilization, the new Aquarian laws and principles, the rising light of Aquarius, the Age of Friendship and Equality—to come forth. Gratitude and goodwill create the “thought-form of solution for humanity and the world’s problems.” The hierarchy lays great emphasis upon expressing gratitude. Gratitude illuminates all that is in darkness. Let us be grateful during this season together. Being, for others, the light that illuminates the darkness. A Poem by R.W. Emerson: We are grateful … “For each new morning with its light/For rest and shelter of the night/For health and food/For love and friends/For everything thy goodness sends.” (poem by R.W. Emerson). I am grateful for my family of readers.


The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program


Pluck of the Irish

Mid-century immigrant tale engagingly told in ‘Brooklyn’
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments


Second Street Café

Pies and tarts for all tastes—from traditional to adventurous


How are you preparing for El Niño?

Getting ready to buy some rain gear. Cory Pickering, Santa Cruz, Teaching Assistant


Fortino Winery

Cabernet and superb fruit wine from Fortino Winery


Tap Dance

West End Tap & Kitchen’s impressive menu to expand to Eastside location