Santa Cruz Good Times

Apr 20th
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Buon Cibo

dining cafemHearty platefuls of creative Italian fare continue to fuel the success of Café Mare 

My stepdaughter and son-in-law came to stay for the weekend recently, so my husband and I took them to dinner at Café Mare for some tasty Italian fare. Owned by Jean Pierre Iuliano from Calabria and Andrea Mura from the island of Sardinia, their passion to make authentic Italian stems from growing up in an environment of homemade pasta, excellent olive oil, flavorful plump olives and rich sauces.

An effort is made at Café Mare to produce food that tends toward unusual, and my main course of Risotto with calamari, squid, mussels, and clams cooked in cuttlefish ink was most definitely a touch of something different. As one of the specials served that particular day ($21), the inky-black dish was delicious as well as imaginative, and the fish tender and moist.

But first, the four of us shared an appetizer of fresh figs wrapped in prosciutto ($11)—the chef that evening, Jose Puga, taking advantage of the short span of time when this delicate fruit is available fresh. A plate of four figs was enough for us each to have a taste—along with an appetizer of Insalate Tricolore ($10), a perfectly presented salad with fresh mozzarella cheese, fresh tomatoes and avocado served with extra virgin olive oil, basil and oregano, each mouthful a burst of flavor.

My son-in-law loved his plate of Spaghetti Mistomare—chock full of fresh clams, mussels, scallops, prawns and calamari ($19)—which comes with a choice of white wine or tomato sauce. And my stepdaughter’s Gemelli del Fattore ($15) is very reasonably priced for a hearty plate of gemelli pasta sautéed in a cream sauce with diced chicken breast, roasted pine nuts and baby spinach. Because the restaurant uses all organic and sustainable produce and makes all their sauces from scratch, it really shows in the flavor and quality of the food. Café Mare even makes its own bread. It’s so good that I could have eaten a whole plateful of it.

And my husband, who loves the more traditional Italian pasta dishes, had a plate of wonderful Penne alla Bolognese ($14), the flavorful pasta sautéed with a ground beef top sirloin tomato sauce. He’s never happier than with authentic Italian pasta that is well prepared.

I had called ahead of time to make a table reservation, and I mentioned that it was my son-in-law’s birthday. Obviously, this had been noted because an ample dessert arrived for us all to share, complete with birthday candle. After a rendition of Happy Birthday, we all delighted in the homemade flaky pastry concoction with fresh berries and custard. Too full to order any other dessert, I will be heading there again soon to try their tiramisu, panna cotta or housemade gelato. Café Mare also prepares an assortment of coffees – cappuccino, latte, mocha, and more exotic ones with liqueur, so it’s a good stop-off place after the movies for just coffee and dessert. dining cafe

From the ample wine list of local and imported wines (especially Italian, of course), we enjoyed a robust Clos la Chance 2008 Zinfandel from the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Andrea Mura came on board as a partner and owner with Iuliano recently when Iuliano’s previous partner left. The two of them decided that this was an opportunity to revamp the menu with recipes straight from their homeland, and an upcoming restaurant remodel is in the works.

Service was attentive and courteous. We were not rushed in any way, and a fresh knife was given out after the appetizer. Tables are nicely spaced, so your fellow diners are not obviously audible, and every effort is made to make the customer comfortable and welcome.

Café Mare is open daily for lunch and dinner, and for brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. Brunch (served from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.) serves up favorites such as Eggs Benedict, Eggs Florentine, Italian Frittata as well as Build Your own Omelet, Frittata or Scramble, and more.

With a full bar, Happy Hour specials, wonderful selection of cocktails, and excellent food,

Café Mare has a lot to offer. Café Mare, 740 Front St., Santa Cruz, 458-1212. Visit café

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