Santa Cruz Good Times

Monday
Feb 08th
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, casablanca-santacruz.com. 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

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

On the Run

Is there hope for California’s salmon?

 

Chinese New Year of the Red Fire Monkey

Monday, Feb. 8, is Aquarius new moon (19 degrees) and Chinese New Year of the Red Fire Monkey (an imaginative, intelligent and vigilant creature). Monkey is bright, quick, lively, quite naughty, clever, inquiring, sensible, and reliable. Monkey loves to help others. Often they are teachers, writers and linguists. They are very talented, like renaissance people. Leonardo Da Vinci was born in the year of Monkey. Monkey contains metal (relation to gold) and water (wisdom, danger). 2016 will be a year of finances. For a return on one’s money, invest in monkey’s ideas. Metal is related to wind (change). Therefore events in 2016 will change very quickly. We must ponder with care before making financial, business and relationship changes. Fortune’s path may not be smooth in 2016. Finances and business as usual will be challenged. Although we develop practical goals, the outcomes are different than hoped for. We must be cautious with investments and business partnership. It is most important to cultivate a balanced and harmonious daily life, seeking ways to release tension, pressure and stress to improve health and calmness. Monkey is lively, flexible, quick-witted, and versatile. Their gentle, honest, enchanting yet resourceful nature results often in everlasting love. Monkeys are freedom loving. Without freedom, Monkey becomes dull, sad and very unhappy. During the Spring and Autumn Period (770 - 476 BC), the Chinese official title of Marquis (noble person) was pronounced ‘Hou,’ the same as the pronunciation of ‘monkey’ in Chinese. Monkey was thereby bestowed with auspicious (favorable, fortunate) meaning. Monkey years are: 1920, 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016.  

 

The New Tech Nexus

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

 

Film, Times & Events: Week of February 5

Santa Cruz area movie theaters >
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Wine and Chocolate

West Cliff Wines gets its game on, plus a brand new chocolate cafe on Center Street

 

How would you stop people from littering?

Teach them from the time that they’re small that it’s not an appropriate behavior. Juliet Jones, Santa Cruz, Claims Adjuster

 

Dancing Creek Winery

New Zinfandel Port is a ruby beauty

 

Venus Spirits

Changing law could mean new opportunity for local spirits