Santa Cruz Good Times

Apr 17th
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A Sweet Finish

dining_jardinEl Jardín brings its friendly staff, unique sauces and gorgeous desserts to Santa Cruz
Since 1985 the Delgados have run what is now a family of Fine Mexican restaurants in historic California towns such as Columbia and Murphys. They've traveled quite a way to bring their specialties to the comfortable restaurant that most recently housed Sestri.

Recently at lunch, a large black wire basket of tortilla chips included two crumbly quarters of golden fried flour tortillas. The smooth red salsa was flavored with cilantro and green onions, and a tomato and cabbage condiment contained jalapeños. On this first visit a ramekin of warm bean dip was also served, with melted cheese, sour cream and green chili sauce. I noticed the new flowery mosaic tile floor which meanders through the bar and restaurant, and noted that crayons and fragrant, fluffy white roses on each paper-covered table. The staff was friendly and attentive, even through a large party was dining in the banquet room.

The House Margarita ($6) was made with Cuervo gold tequila, lime juice and a bit of José Cuervo Margarita mix and triple sec. It was almost clear, not food-color-yellow from sweet and sour, and very refreshing. If you prefer a Cadillic ($8), it includes Hornitos Reposada and orange-flavored Grand Marnier liqueur.

I was surprised by the 45-item wine list, much of it reasonably priced, although there are a few $199 bottles of champagne. On Wednesdays selected wines are half price such as California Dynamite Zinfandel (regularly $18) and Esperto Pinot Grigio (regularly $24).

Weekday lunch specials include combinations of two items ($8) or three ($9) which are served with rice and beans. The regular menu is also offered, which includes seafood dishes, salads such as Lemon Chicken ($11), and sizzling Fajitas ($13 to $16). From the list of house specialties, I received a hearty serving of Chile Verde ($12), which featured huge chunks of fat-edged pink pork; firm but breaking easily into shreds. The tart tomatillo sauce tasted

somewhat sweet to me. It was served with rice and a liquid purée of

refried beans.

On a different day I enjoyed the piping hot Chicken Mole Poblano ($15) even more. Strips of lean breast were swimming in spicy, dark mole sauce with the characteristic hint of chocolate. Peanut butter added a surprising depth and luscious mouthful. On this visit, the refried beans were lusciously thick and tasted almost smoky.

The dessert list includes a suggested beverage pairing with each item, from chocolate dessert wine to Mexican coffee brightened with Goldschlager cinnamon schnapps. Somebody was served a homemade Flan ($5) embellished with whipped cream. I'm no fan of County Fair churros, but El Jardín's a la carte Churros ($2) were a treat. Two crisp ridged pastries, dusted with cinnamon sugar, shared a plate with dollops of whipped cream and strawberry pieces, all drizzled with chocolate syrup and caramel sauce.

El Jardín, 655 Capitola Rd., Santa Cruz, 477-9384. Full bar. Serving lunch and dinner daily from 11 a.m. Visit

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