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soquelcalifornia's Profile

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Need a rec for a really good restaurant in or very near Santa Cruz...

Oswald, Gabriella, Au Midi…none are mediocre. 'Tis snobbery of the big city that overshadows actual hands-on dining experience in a region with a surfeit of incredible organic farms.

But fine, keep saying that to the world. It may be hit and miss, but this city/county is not necessarily "mediocre" unless you go to Shadowbrook or any of the other "popular" places that use Cisco and other industrial food products. Santa Cruz MOSTLY likes to keep it real.

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Shadowbrook
1750 Wharf Rd., Capitola, CA 95010

Oct 17, 2011
soquelcalifornia in California

Need a rec for a really good restaurant in or very near Santa Cruz...

I had lunch at Au Midi and adored it. It's just perfect food, prepared with love and warmth. It's a form of time travel, for me.

I've had several meals at Bonny Doon Cellar Door—oh, SO good, though the padróns are not served classically, and I think all that smoke is overkill. Smoked padróns instead of straight-up cooked in olive oil with salt, and then smoked chevre on top of that. The smoked fingerlings, however, are probably my favorite potatoes on earth. I wouldn't order both at the same meal. And I would always choose the potatoes.

I really wouldn't say most restaurants in the county are mediocre. Oswald has a world-class bartender, and a chef, Damani Thomas, who is amazing. Soif, La Posta, gee, SO many good places to eat, and much less expensive than The City. (Interpret "The City" to be anything you care to.)

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La Posta
538 Seabright Avenue, Santa Cruz, CA 95062

Au Midi
7960 Soquel Dr Ste E, Aptos, CA 95003

Oct 17, 2011
soquelcalifornia in California

Fish worth the money in Carmel/Monteray

Beach Chick has the correct answer. Besides being a regular at the farmers markets, the chef and his wife offer wine at retail price, with no mark-up on glasses or bottles. (Most restaurants mark up two or three times!)

During the Eco-Farm conference at Asilomar every January, there is a winemaker's event. Afterwards, most of the winemakers I've seen go straight to Passionfish for dinner.

Great, great food.

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Passionfish
701 Lighthouse Ave, Pacific Grove, CA 93950

Oct 17, 2011
soquelcalifornia in California

Aptos/ Capitola dinner suggestions?

Too bad if you went to the Shadowbrook. I'll never eat there again.

Meanwhile, my two favorite places in those towns are:

1) Aptos: Au Midi, a French restaurant with perfect food, perfect service, and perfect setting. So comfortable, so delicious, and so obviously made with love. The wife is the chef, and her husband is host.

The wine list is sweet: all are priced the same: $8/glass and $29/bottle.

http://aumidi.com/

2) Capitola: a hidden gem is Caruso's Italian restaurant. The chef, David Caruso, is straight from Italy, and he's a generous-spirited, energetic man who clearly loves what he's doing. The food is ultra-Italian, and many have been the times that I've eaten there, rocking back and forth and moaning with delight. (TMI? Sorry.) You cannot go wrong there. It's in the village on the little connector street between the Esplanade and the other main drag through the village, in the Capitola Mercantile.

Either of these places is a complete delight, and I hope you try them next time around!

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Shadowbrook
1750 Wharf Rd., Capitola, CA 95010

Au Midi
7960 Soquel Dr Ste E, Aptos, CA 95003

Jul 25, 2010
soquelcalifornia in California

Restaurant recs needed on the coast North of San Francisco

We had the good fortune of stumbling across River's End restaurant in Jenner, where the Russian River meets the Pacific Ocean. Everything, down to the wine list, is locally sourced, and the food was fabulous. It's a very special little place, with an incomparable view, and the kind of vibe that is created by locals and returning visitors who know a treasure when they see it.

Best clam chowder we've ever had, too.

Can't recommend it enough, and can't wait to return.

The owner is also an avid photographer, so the walls are lined with his work: local nature scenes that are just beautiful. That explains their URL:

http://www.ilovesunsets.com/

Hope you try it and love it as much as we did.

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River's End
11048 Highway 1, Jenner, CA 95450

Jul 25, 2010
soquelcalifornia in California

40th Birthday Dinner in Santa Cruz

I'm a local, for 21 years, and very connected to the food scene in Santa Cruz. If you want "special," avoid the Shadowbrook, which is a tourist hot spot. The food is better than average with the exception that they serve CAFO (factory farmed) meat. YUCK. They are not connected to the local farms, not that I have noticed. So cruise ship food, I think. Much ado about nothing, in my book.

The best food, sourced locally, is at Oswald, Cellar Door, Gabriella Café, Ristorante Avanti, and Soif. (I haven't been to La Posta in years, and my only experience was sticker shock when a plate of charcuterie, a shared entrée, and two glasses of wine cost $65.)

You can see the Cellar Door's menus online: they serve a prix fixe three-course menu that changes daily. You won't be able to see it until the week of August 9-13, though. (I think.)

I would have to recommend Oswald as being my favorite. I had my birthday dinner there, with three other friends. The food was fantastic: one of the best meals I've had in years. Service was perfect without being cloying. We had two appetizers, three entrées, a bottle of red wine, a birthday glass of prosecco, three desserts, and two cocktails, and got out for about $50/person before tip. About those cocktails? World class. The bartender used to be with Michael Mina in San Francisco. One was a raspberry-basil concoction, and the other, a jalapeño margarita that was lip-stingingly good. We all agreed that the raspberry vodka was the best cocktail any of us had ever had. (Three of us are in our fifties.)

It is everything you seek, I believe. It is elegant, a little on the "pleasantly noisy" side (which I don't mind, because I am not especially comfortable in places where you can hear a pin drop, and feel compelled to speak in hushed tones), and is a very attractive room.

I believe it is the only one of the places I've mentioned with a full bar. I recommend it whole-heartedly. Enjoy, and happy birthday!

Jul 25, 2010
soquelcalifornia in California

Indian in or near Santa Cruz

Because you could smell the spices in the air, and roasted ones smell quite different than otherwise. (I know this myself, having roasted spices at home, but I'd never have noticed downtown without his pointing it out.)

I wish he would move here, and don't think I didn't give it my best shot. But.

He's moving from London to Spain...because of the food. He loved it here, but the restrictions on cheese and beer and other ridiculous food laws in the United States make it unpalatable for him on a permanent basis. He's not big on pasteurization...nor am I, come to think of it.

Mar 01, 2008
soquelcalifornia in California

Indian in or near Santa Cruz

Update. I had a world-traveling Indian friend visit us recently, and we were walking on the downtown mall. He wrinkled his nose when we passed Sitar, and said, "You can tell they don't roast their spices. Ghastly, that." The following night, he proceeded to cook us a ten-course Bengali feast, so I take his advice that Sitar is SubPar, and will NOT darken its doors again.

Why can't we get a decent Indian place here?

Feb 29, 2008
soquelcalifornia in California

Where to eat in Carmel/Pacific Grove

In beautiful Pacific Grove, Passionfish. I regularly attend a conference in PG that winemakers also attend, and you will see groups of them headed to Passionfish for dinner. It's wonderful, and it would be my neighborhood place if I lived there.

Also, in Monterey, not too far away at all, Stokes Restaurant (sometimes referred to as Stokes Adobe).

The chef is all about local, seasonal, fabulous food, and my companion and I were moaning like pornstars when we ate our food, which I unfortunately forgot to write down. We just put ourselves in the chef's hands—he came highly recommended from another chef I knew, and every single bite of every single thing was just bursting with flavor. The rooms are lovely and unfussy, and it was one of the highlights of my dining out last year.

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Passionfish
701 Lighthouse Ave, Pacific Grove, CA 93950

Stokes Restaurant & Bar
500 Hartnell St., Monterey, CA 93940

Feb 29, 2008
soquelcalifornia in California

Updated Santa Cruz restaurant reviews/opinions, please!

I was hungry today, and this post inspired me to try Sawasdee, which is nearby. I was glad I did. I ordered green curry with chicken—fresh vegetables cooked beautifully in the sauce, and enough to bring home half for my husband. The Tom Kah tofu-veggie soup was also really good: bright and light coconut broth with just the right amount of tang. They were so friendly, helpful, and appreciative. (Best of all, the cutest baby was sitting across from me, and I got to photograph and play with her.)

I will be going back for dinner: the menu is like six pages long! (Catfish sounds good. Anything else where they put the lime in the coconut? I love that kind of stuff.) Also, nice to hear that they've been open for three years and four months: that spot has held a LOT of different places.

I have not found a better Thai place in the county, though Bangkok Palace used to be where we often went. We just don't go out as much with a little boy in the house.

Ate at Hula's twice, and definitely would return.

Surprised to see no mention of the River Cafe & Cheese Shop across from Cost Plus in Santa Cruz, especially in response to the person recently seeking the best place for organic fare—not necessarily vegetarian.

Feb 29, 2008
soquelcalifornia in California

San Diego Recs using local organic produce?

When it comes time to choose again, you should ask Barry Logan, the farmer at La Milpa Organica, where he delivers. He sells to the most restaurants in San Diego, I think.

http://milpaorganica.com/

Great guy, too.

Aug 30, 2007
soquelcalifornia in California

Betty's Burgers - Santa Cruz

Thanks for posting a link to Christina Waters.

Aug 30, 2007
soquelcalifornia in California

Cambria...sweet cambria....what can I eat there and where can I eat?

Ka-DING! Yes, another vote for Robin's. We had a lovely meal there—quality of food and service and everything. Just a great place to go.

Aug 30, 2007
soquelcalifornia in California

Updated Santa Cruz restaurant reviews/opinions, please!

You are correct, and next time (to quote Dr. John, "There'll be no next time!") I would inquire about the prices of the wine. The $43 includes the tax, but the wines were way spendy.

Having worked years in restaurants, I think it should be mandatory to declare the price of any dish or any kind of suggestion that is not on the printed menu. Our waiter made a couple of recommendations about pairing with what we'd ordered, but neglected to mention that they were close to $10 glass. I like full disclosure.

But I will go back to Soif again and again. I like the big room, I like sitting at the bar—usually find really good conversation there.

Aug 30, 2007
soquelcalifornia in California

Cafe in Santa Cruz?

As much as I love Gayle's, it's not what you're looking for. It's VERY loud and busy there—we usually get food to go. And don't get me wrong: I love love love Gayle's Bakery!

What time of day? Some places are closed mid-afternoon.

Aug 30, 2007
soquelcalifornia in California

Betty's Burgers - Santa Cruz

Is it factory-farmed meat, or does anyone know (or care)?

I have heard good things, but I just can't handle the thought of cows on dirty (with guess what?) concrete.

Jul 15, 2007
soquelcalifornia in California

SD Farmer's Markets

I do not know of a farmers market open on Mondays anywhere in the state. (If not country.)

I think most farmers take the day off. Many work an early market on Sunday, and then rest.

Check LocalHarvest.org for farmers markets, too: just plug in a zip code.

And to the person who gets the answer, "I don't know, I just work the register"? I'd shop somewhere else. CCOF (California Certified Organic) requires a monetary investment that many small farms, especially those who've been in operation for a long time, aren't willing to invest it. If you know your farmers and trust them, then if they say "no pesticides" or "sustainable," that is often as good as "organic." For a farm to call itself "organic" requires meeting strict government regulations. Well, "strict, but loosening for big business" is more the case.

Ask the farmers. Talk to the farmers. Satisfy yourself.

It's actually more important to know which fruits and vegetables are worse when grown with pesticides, and which are "not so bad."

http://www.diamondorganics.com/dirty_...

That is a list of the "dirty dozen" (the most contaminated fruits and vegetables). I would never buy a conventional peach or berry or apple. Corn, on the other hand, is not such a moral compromise for me.

I'll second the rec for Hillcrest on Sunday. Great variety. Nice, as long as you avoid the scented products. (I don't want to smell candles: I want to smell basil and lemons and peaches.)

Jul 15, 2007
soquelcalifornia in California

Monterey Fine Dining Recs

I had a TERRIBLE and TERRIBLY DISAPPOINTING meal at Pepper's this week. I was so looking forward to it, but our group ordered several things, and only the smothered burrito (in the green sauce!) and the roasted (grilled?) chile stuffed with some kind of cheese were winning. The tamales were like dried-out wallpaper glue, and the chiles relleno was buried in goo. Not attractive goo, but gloppy goo.

Definitely sliding or resting on their laurels. Believe me, I wanted to love it, because I did before, so much.

Nothing tasted fresh or original. Not like it used to.

Love Passionfish, very much. Everything so fresh. (I can't empasize that enough.)

Jul 15, 2007
soquelcalifornia in California

Best of Reno 2007 votes

Olive Garden is "Italian"? What an insult to the Italians who make fabulous food with four or five simple and incredibly fresh ingredients.

Barf.

"Chain food" is not Italian. Get a clue, Reno.

Can we say that "Olive Garden" is as authentic of an Italian restaurant as Micaso Too is authentic Mexican?

Did I mention "barf"? And "shudder"?

Jul 15, 2007
soquelcalifornia in California

Going to be in Maui for 10 days...where do I HAVE to go???

STAY AWAY FROM LONGHI'S! (Google "Longhi's" and "braying" and you'll see why. Do not believe the hype. Gadzooks, what a place.)

Jul 15, 2007
soquelcalifornia in U.S. Elsewhere Archive

Hana

Late or no, I'll chime in for the next person.

We traveled and stayed at Hana Hale Malamalama some years back. The thing to do on Maui is to book lodgings with a kitchen. Yes, you can have a few meals out, but you won't find anything that makes you swoon and moan. (Which is fine: you don't want to embarrass yourselves, do you?)

Hana Hale Malamalama and the Bamboo Inn has places with full kitchens, and there is also now the Mermaid Breakfast bar (on one side or the other, I'm actually not sure). It's a very special place. VERY.

The reason to go to Hana is to escape the high-rise condos and Blockbusters and fast food idiocy on the west side of the island, and even more, to be free of all the tourists who just want to be photographed in front of something to say they've been there.

Go look at the website and read "What Is Hana."

(The personal chef thing looks good! I'll keep it in mind for traveling friends.)

http://www.hanahale.com

Hope that helps.

Jul 15, 2007
soquelcalifornia in Hawaii

Looking for a list of farms...

By far the best way to locate farms (and farmers markets, CSAs, restaurants, etc., selling fresh/local food) is to use Local Harvest.

http://www.localharvest.org

Plug in a zip code and voilà!

I can't tell you how useful that site is. Nothing compares: not government sites, nothing.

Jul 03, 2007
soquelcalifornia in San Francisco Bay Area

South Lake Tahoe restaurants

I'll second Cafe Fiore. It's been there for a long time—enjoying support from locals—and it feels very much like some of the bistros here in Santa Cruz. The menu is artistic without being pretentious, and it's got a good wine list. Very comfortable and delicious.

Apr 24, 2007
soquelcalifornia in California

GQ article about Ferry Building in SF

Like I'd read anything Alan Richman wrote after he trashed New Orleans so badly. Despite that, I love the Ferry Building...just preferably not when he's in it.

Apr 24, 2007
soquelcalifornia in Food Media & News

My 10 Favorite Things to Eat in Santa Cruz

"Oysters from the oyster stand at the Sat. Cabrillo market. It's been a while since I've gotten them, but they've always been fresh and terrific!"

Alas, Bill retired last year for health reasons. I've heard they're replacing him with Rudy, who works the Felton farmers market, whose oysters are $1.50 each (a 50% increase). I think we're going to have to retire our oyster shucking knife.

I'll add these:

1. "Turkey and brie with pesto panini" at Cafe Limelight on Cedar street.
2. Steak sandwich with gorgonzola-cognac sauce at River Cafe & Cheese Shop, along with about thirty cheeses that make me drool.
3. Donnelly Chocolate: cardamom, Tahitian vanilla, and Earl Grey, all dark chocolates, of course, because milk chocolate is for babies. (I like to start fights, too!)
4. Soif: squid salad, and other seasonal things on the menu.
5. Ristorante Avanti: calamari. I could eat a truckload of them.
6. Eating breakfast at either of the Santa Cruz farmers markets: foccacia, cheese, pastries, etc., surrounded by live music, sunshine, and the ocean breeze. (West side market on Saturday mornings is year-round from 9-2, and Live Oak is May through October, 10-2.) We also grab a basket of strawberries from Windmill Farm or Dirty Girl, and chai or tea (Live Oak only) at the coffee shop there.
7. Farm fresh eggs (I get mine from Everett Famly Farm in Soquel, but TLC Ranch, Brandon Faria's, and others are just as good—the yolks are schoolbus yellow!) with Severino's Sausage Verde or breakfast sausage (with maple syrup and ginger, I think), and toast (I like Kelly's bread best). The breakfast of champions!

I'm looking forward to the return of Oswald.

Apr 24, 2007
soquelcalifornia in California

Updated Santa Cruz restaurant reviews/opinions, please!

My recent discovery—what took me two years?!—is Cafe Limelight, next to the parking garage on Cedar Street downtown. The turkey-brie panini and the one with red bell pepper pesto and artichokes are both stellar, as is the ham-cheddar. Great, great values on the menu—sandwiches include a nice garden salad with homemade vinaigrette. I haven't tried cheese platters or other specialities: I'm addicted to the paninis—gooey, cheesy, finger-licking sandwiches. Try the $22/bottle of Bargetto Lodi Tempranillo (red): what a deal. And unbeatable hospitality, thanks to a Southern owner. I'm glad they are prospering...go there! Go now. Go twice.

We went to La Posta in March, and it's too rich for my blood. We had serious sticker shock: one salumi platter ($15--and it's not housemade, I don't think, so probably from Fra' Mani, is my guess) and one order of intensely good black mushroom pasta ($12), both of which we shared, with two 5-ounce (very small pours) glasses of wine each (there were two of us) was over $70 (!!!) before tip. I can't support an all-Italian wine list, either, environmentally it's a nightmare—all the gas to transport it around the world. Also, with all the great wine available locally, it's unthinkable to me not to support local growers. So I'll leave it to the BMW crowd: there are other better options (like Soif, which is fabulous). It just isn't a good value, monetarily or emotionally, for me.

We took a friend to Hula's in March, and enjoyed that a lot. Killer Mai Tais (with requisite paper umbrella, if you like), and the blood orange martini was delicious. (I think the best bargain is a double Mai Tai.) We loved the coconut shrimp rolls and sweet potato fries. I know we ordered three kinds of fish specials, and cannot remember which, which is sad because I loved what I'd ordered and would want it again.

The ambiance was buzzing and pleasant: even late on a cold and rainy weekday evening, the place was jam-packed. Décor is clever: the transformation from tired Chinese booth-style dining is magical.

We did try Sitar, for take-out. While ANYTHING is better than Royal Taj (say, licking a muddy boot), it's still fast-food-ish, despite the presence of cloth napkins (rolled in wine glasses, and they have no liquor license—a non sequitur). Chicken tikka masala was moist and tasty, as was the eggplant. But the samosas were so-so, and the bhel puri was awful. It was like stale Rice Krispies buried in raw onions. Mouth-searingly bad. I'm sure I'll go back, but it's not like the food you can get at real Indian places over the hill. (I just won't order the bhel puri.)

Also went (and will not return) to Hank's at the Hook. Yes, with all the pictures of farms on the wall, they get their meat from Ledyard. Lots of buzz from ignorant people, I think: it was cafeteria food, as far as I'm concerned. My teenager liked it, but that's what teenagers do.

And yes, Theo's is sublime. It's one of the best bargains for upscale dining I can think of—the chef makes his own cheeses from Claravale organic milk, and is a devoted to obtaining the best fruits and vegetables from nearby farms. Their "Brown Bag" night on the first Thursday of each month allows you to bring in the suggested wine (pinot noir, zinfandel, etc.), and the chef will have a menu prepared especially to match that wine. With no corkage. Theo's is one of my favorites anywhere: it's a gem in this county.

Apr 24, 2007
soquelcalifornia in California

Breakfast in Santa Cruz – A six month sojourn (Long)

You missed a couple of legends-with-the-locals in there: Cliff Cafe (815 41st Avenue, Capitola), a favorite with surfers, as it's close to Pleasure Point, and Linda's Seabright Cafe (alas for the lame website, which doesn't furnish the address of the cafe, courtesy of the design team who uses half the page to promote themselves instead). Thank heavens for Google: it's at 542 Seabright Ave., Santa Cruz.

Both of these places are rather like the Silver Spur (owned by Linda of Linda's Seabright Cafe): popular for a reason. (Cliff Cafe, though, apparently serves margarine with its pancakes. Eeesh.)

I've never been a big fan of either Zachary's or Walnut Cafe: the former because it's just too much a melange of hippie cooking and unskilled staff, and the latter because there is uniformly unripe fruit served with everything. I do like their huevos rancheros, though.

Do not, under any circumstances, be lured to Paula's on Portola. It's the most disgusting excuse for food I have ever seen emitted from a professional kitchen. I'm talking rancid here.

You might go to the farmers market on the west side on Satuday mornings—Highway One at Western Drive (the last traffic light out of town, as you're heading to Davenport). River Cafe and Cheese Shop serves pastries, muffins, cookies, cheeses, and Gabriella Cafe has focaccia with various toppings, tamales, breakfast sandwiches (sausage/eggs, smoked trout/goat cheese, stuff like that), and there is live music with seating. The market is from 9:00AM - 2:00PM, I think. (The Sunday market, on East Cliff and 15th Avenue, also features Gabriella Cafe as well as Frog Hollow farm pastries, crepes from Nina, and Beckmann's Bakery. It, too, features live music and seating. This market is from 10:00AM - 2:00 PM, and will reopen the first Sunday in May.) These, honestly, are my favorite breakfasts in the county, at least on a warm and sunny day. The market manager finds good local musicians, and it's a very pleasant social scene.

Apr 24, 2007
soquelcalifornia in California

Indian in or near Santa Cruz

Anything in the world is better than Royal Taj: it's wretched. Disgusting, even: old, tired, uninspired. D-plus at best.

I ate recently at Sitar, which is new, downtown on the Pacific Garden Mall. Some things were good (eggplant, chicken tikka masala), and some were terrible (the bhel puri, for instance, was a melange of what seemed to be stale Rice Krispies overwhelmed by the ten pounds of chopped raw onions). I would definitely go back, but it's a B-minus in my book. Nice atmosphere, but it's puzzling how they do place settings with cloth napkins in wine glasses, since they have no liquor license.

San Jose and Santa Clara are where some of the best Indian food in the country is served. (Sayeth the Desi foodies I know.)

Apr 23, 2007
soquelcalifornia in California

Pimientos de Padron - where to buy aside from Happy Quail farms?

"I like the intensity of the char and more direct fragrance NOT using oil in the pan."

Perfectly said. Agreed. But I do like searing them in the salt, too. Maybe I'm just imagining the difference. I'll do a comparison next time I have some in the house.

Apr 23, 2007
soquelcalifornia in San Francisco Bay Area

Pimientos de Padron - where to buy aside from Happy Quail farms?

One of the farmers from whom I buy said he'd read/heard that some Spanish do not use olive oil, so we tried that way, and prefer it. We just sear the peppers in a skillet with kosher flake salt until they are blistered and wilted. I may do a very light spray of olive oil with my Misto, but I don't cook in it.

Apr 23, 2007
soquelcalifornia in San Francisco Bay Area