Santa Cruz Good Times

Apr 21st
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Capturing Kauboi

filmNew Japanese grill and sushi bar from the owners of burger. takes on Aptos

Kauboi Japanese Grill & Sushi Bar is the new kid on the restaurant block. Having opened  in early September, it is still in the throes of a “soft opening,” it’s certainly not lacking in concept or courtesy. Owned by the duo which have the two successful  burger. restaurants (one in Santa Cruz and the other in Aptos) Kauboi may be headed for a similar kind of popularity. 

We were greeted warmly on entering Kauboi, and our server didn’t flinch as I took my time choosing a table— first planning to eat in one room and then changing lanes and deciding on another—as memories of the former Britannia Arms come flooding back. As a Brit, I spent many a happy hour there drinking pints of ale with other Brits and generally having a good time. But gone are those traces of an English pub. In its place is a nicely decorated restaurant in Japanese style, with an emphasis on minimalism—black tablecloths and starched white napkins, black walls with black and white artwork —and it all works well.

Terracotta red and wood paneling look very retro in the upstairs dining room, where the Britannia Arms’ pool table used to be, and it’s all decked out with new carpeting and lighting. Some of the overhead lighting still has to be connected and our table could have used more light. The ground floor level dining room is set out more like a Japanese parlor—minus tatami mats—with low chairs and tables and some nicely upholstered easy chairs as well. A family of three had stopped by to try the food and remarked on how different the place is now that it has a total Japanese look.

When our order of food arrived, restaurant manager Chris Hazen stopped by to check if we need anything.  He told  us that Kauboi is still waiting for its full-bar alcohol license, but it’s expected early in October. Meantime, a  Hamm beer on tap and Ozeki sake suited  us just fine, and both of these go well with our order of Tempura, Yakatori (with a choice of beef, chicken or vegetable) and River Snake—a tasty dish of crab cakes, arugula, cucumber, avocado and spicy aioli. I noticed that the avocado had been sliced ahead of time and had turned a bit brown round the edges—something else for the restaurant to work on.

Fresh fish is ordered daily from Royal Hawaiian Seafood in San Francisco, some of it on display in the new sushi corner where two chefs prepare orders on the spot. The diner can choose from shrimp, salmon, mackerel, halibut, ahi tuna and more—displayed alongside several pots of bright orange fish eggs. Seafood served is sustainable, line caught and Monterey Bay Watch-approved.

 “It’s definitely been an experience getting everything together,” says executive chef Josh Bryant, who formerly worked at Geisha in Capitola and has experience in a variety of Japanese restaurants. “We’re trying to do things in a traditional way, but to make it fresh and new.”

Sous chef Dru Thorensen comes with experience of being a private chef as well as working in various other restaurants. “I’m beside myself with joy at working here,” he says.

When the bar gets up and running at full throttle, it’s going to be a memorable place to hang out. Complete with flat-screen TV and plenty of seating, the bar is yet another comfortable dining area of the restaurant’s three casual-ambiance rooms.

Prices are very reasonable in Kauboi, ranging from about $3 to $18. As we left, a server whizzed by with one of the restaurant’s signature dishes called Ring of Fire.

I’ll try that next time.    

Kauboi Japanese Grill & Sushi Bar, 8017 Soquel Drive, Aptos, 661-0449. Visit

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