Cover Stories

An A-Z Guide to Santa Cruz Restaurant Week

GT1541 coverWEB515

515 Cedar St., Santa Cruz

425-5051, 515santacruz.com

For Restaurant Week, 515 is taking the local ingredients they already use and making entirely new menu items. Sous chef Jessica Carlson explains, “We are going to have fun, while staying true to ourselves. We want our regulars to be excited about trying new stuff.” Carlson recommends such unique dishes as the saffron seafood risotto, with sustainable prawns, mussels and calamari; and the grilled New York strip steak, which will feature a demi glaze.

AC

Aquarius

175 West Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz

460-5012

As a restaurant that looks out over the Monterey Bay, fresh local fish and produce is especially important to Aquarius, says manager C.J. Harman.

They also smoke their  own pastrami. “I love a good Reuben,” says Harman.

To celebrate Restaurant Week, Aquarius, housed in the Dream Inn, is making coastal huckleberry cobbler from the berry that is ripe for only one month out of the year.

Main courses include crispy pork belly with smoked tomato polenta, a petit filet, sea scallops and a butternut squash risotto.

“Local sustainable seafood and produce with great views sums us up,” says Harman. BK

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Assembly

1108 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz

824-6100, assembleforfood.com

Fresh, creative and locally sourced dishes are a way of life at Assembly. Co-owner Zach Davis sees Restaurant Week as an opportunity to flex those creative muscles with some unique dishes not on their normal menu, and to focus on fall flavors.

“All of our produce is locally farmed,” Davis says. “All the proteins are locally sourced. Any bread or pastas that we do is all stuff that we make in-house. We’re trying to emphasize the flavors of the fall and get some of the warm-y, hearty fall type of things.”

Davis takes those flavors to create a dish like the red flint polenta, which has roasted mushrooms, fennel, greens, preserved lemon-herb relish and burrata.

“This time of year, mushrooms are in season. Mushrooms, fennel and polenta is just an amazing combination. That’s something you’re probably not going to find anywhere else in Santa Cruz,” he says.

He also recommends the La Quercia prosciutto with roasted Brussels sprouts, Asian pears, savoy cabbage, pomegranates and mustard seeds: “You get a little bit of salty with a kick from the mustard seed. It’s a great way to get your taste buds awakened.” AC

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Back Nine Grill & Bar

555 Hwy 17, Santa Cruz

423-5000, backninegrill.com

For its barbecue, the Back Nine gets food that’s as local as the persimmon tree in its backyard.

But Chef Ben Kralj (which is pronounced “cry,” and means “king” in Slovenian) will also go quite a way for a barbecue edge; he gets some of his recipes from an East Bay barbecue place called the Back Forty, which is known for a sauce that holds cumin and celery seed, among other secrets.

Kralj recommends the St. Louis ribs to Restaurant Week diners trying out the year-old spot in what was once Peachwood’s. It holds 50 people in the lounge and another 200 in the dining room, overlooking lush green manicured lawns.

Another specialty is a barbecued chicken salad featuring jicama, corn, black beans, cilantro, basil, fresh-made tortilla chips, green onions, Monterey Jack cheese, and a special sauce.

Kralj, who used to work at farmers markets when he wasn’t cooking, knows the benefits of buying local. “It’s knowing we’re not polluting, and being able to support businesses right here instead of some factory farm in the middle of wherever,” he says.

For Restaurant Week, he’s got two homemade desserts—a molten chocolate cake and a lemon bar, as well as ice cream from Marianne’s. He’s waiting for the persimmons to ripen so he can use them for bread and pudding. BK

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Café Mare

740 Front St. #100, Santa Cruz

458-1212, cafemare.com

Café Mare’s authentic Italian menu for Restaurant Week was designed by head chef J.P. Iuliano, and utilizes many local and house-made ingredients. Not only do they make their own breads and pastas from organic flour sourced from Coke Farm in San Juan Bautista, but “we have our own garden where we grow tomatoes, parsley, zucchini, and basil,” says Iuliano. Appetizer options include the classic bruschetta, as well as mussels and clams in a light white wine tomato broth. One entrée option is their organic homemade tagliatelle pasta, served in a cream sauce with Taleggio cheese, speck and green peas sourced from Rodoni Farm in Davenport. Trescenzo Pellicia, an Italian-born assistant chef who specializes in Southern Italian dishes, is preparing to serve Baba, a traditional Neapolitan dessert. It is comprised of housemade sponge bread dipped in rum syrup, filled with homemade pastry cream and topped with Amarena cherries. AS

Chocolate

1522 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz

427-9900, chocolatesantacruz.com

The restaurant may be named after a dessert, but chef David Jackman really brings a unique approach to his main courses. With influences from all over the globe, it’s a little hard to describe exactly what kind of food Jackman serves, except that it’s fun, flavorful and farm-to-fork of the highest order.

“We definitely have a style,” he says. “It’s not a cuisine, but a style, and we stick to it. We’re as organic and locally sourced as we can be. We’re so seasonal. I think tomatoes are the only thing that we even serve out of season.” For Restaurant Week, Jackman is highlighting autumnal flavors with items like butternut squash rosettes, a ginger-persimmon glazed chicken and a roasted swordfish with smoked roasted peppers, spiced heirloom tomatoes and salt. “We’re doing what’s coming out of the farms right now,” he says. AC

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The Cremer House

6256 Hwy 9, Felton

335-3976, cremerhouse.com

The Cremer House is known as both a craft brewery, with 25 brews on tap, and a hearty American restaurant serving a sort of upscale comfort food. One of their most popular dishes is a maple-mustard buttermilk fried chicken, which they will be serving during Restaurant Week. There is a heavy focus on organic ingredients, and they get between 50-80 percent of them locally. They even have their own bakery in the back for their baked good needs, like a brioche bun for their beet burger (another dish on their Restaurant Week menu, for vegetarians).

“For each course, we’re doing a special Restaurant Week dish, and we’re doing a couple of our dishes that we’re known for,” says Chef Andy Potterfield. Other menu items will include the unique burrata dish special, which has balsamic-roasted figs and prosciutto, and the seared scallops with autumn squash and curry. AC

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Crow’s Nest

2218 E. Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz

476-4560, crowsnest-santacruz.com

The Crow’s Nest, with its spectacular harbor views and upscale American cuisine, will feature a Restaurant Week menu designed by Executive Chef Jeff Westbrook. A roasted mushroom salad headlines the appetizer choices, featuring local chanterelle and lobster mushrooms. The salad also includes local Salinas Valley mixed greens, shallots, pine nuts, goat cheese, and a housemade smoked shallot vinaigrette. One entrée option is the braised local pork shank, accompanied by local mashed potatoes with white cheddar, as well as asparagus and pan juices.

A locally inspired dessert is a cobbler with apples and blackberries from Gizdich Ranch, with a candied ginger sabayon made from Glaum Ranch eggs and cream from Challenge Dairy. Chef Westbrook is excited about Restaurant Week this year, saying, “It is a good opportunity to get the word out that we do a similar prix-fixe three-course tasting menu every Thursday throughout the offseason that changes every four weeks and highlights local and seasonal products.” AS

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El Jardín

655 Capitola Road, Santa Cruz

477-9384, eljardinrestaurant.net

Situated in a prime Midtown location on the corner of Capitola Road and 7th Avenue, El Jardín’s head chef Ana Hernandez has prepared an exciting Mexican menu featuring their take on traditional dishes. “This is going to be our first year doing Restaurant Week, and we’re excited to have Santa Cruz taste our fine Mexican cuisine,” says manager Zeph Delgado.

The housemade tortilla soup features tortillas sourced from Del Pueblo Market in Santa Cruz. The dish includes avocados from Watsonville, homemade chicken broth and red sauce, and is topped with Jack and Cotija cheeses. Entrée options include their shrimp enchiladas, made with shrimp from San Juan Bautista-based company Pacific Harvest, a house-made chili verde sauce, and a sour cream topping. Desserts include the classic flan with homemade custard and caramel, topped with whipped cream and fresh local strawberries. AS

El Palomar

1336 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz

425-7575, elpalomarsantacruz.com

El Palomar is a go-to spot for Mexican food that isn’t afraid to stray from the bounds of tradition. Sure, the menu is inspired by old family recipes, but the owners have taken the dishes into new, modern, and distinctly Californian territory. They also focus on bringing some of that delicious local fish from our nearby seas.

“We buy all of our fish from Stagnaro,” says manager Kimi Hanson. “We’re featuring a blackened snapper dish (huachinango) that’s caught locally. They put a blackened spice on it, served with a little salsa, rice and beans.”

For people looking for something a little more in the traditional Mexican realm this Restaurant Week, try the red enchiladas with a mole sauce. For a starter, the restaurant will offer their popular sopitos, which are mini sopes, and their chicken tortilla soup. “Whether it’s 102 degrees outside or 42 degrees outside, people come back again and again for that,” says Hanson. AC

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Gabriella Café

910 Cedar St., Santa Cruz

457-1677, gabriellacafe.com

This cozy, homelike cottage with an intimate European feel was founded in 1992 by owner Paul Cocking. Chef Gema Cruz started as a prep cook, and has been with the restaurant almost since it began. She is carrying on the culinary philosophy of Gabriella Café:

“Our desire to serve only the freshest seasonal local organic produce underlies everything we do,” Cocking says.

Gabriella is offering seven choices of appetizers and entrées for Restaurant Week. The menu will stay at $35 in order to present a larger choice of sustainable fish and meat products. The favorite farms this year are Route One for beets, potatoes, frisee, baby romaine lettuce, zucchini (with and without flowers), herbs and mint. Live Earth is their source for strawberries, raspberries, baby carrots, kale, lettuce and dry-farmed tomatoes; Blue Heron for amazing lettuce and broccoli; Rodoni for Brussels sprouts and artichokes; and Dirty Girl for heirloom beans, baby turnips and green beans. JS

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Hindquarter Bar and Grille

303 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz

426-7770, thehindquarter.com

Hindquarter Bar and Grille, a longtime Santa Cruz fixture specializing in all things meat, will be serving a menu this year designed by head chef and owner Sam Yanez. First course options include a salad with organic greens sourced from Happy Boy Farm, warm goat cheese, toasted pecans, cranberries, and pomegranate vinaigrette. Entrée choices are highlighted by a blackened bistro steak that’s been marinated in tequila, lime and cilantro. “I’m really excited to introduce people to this cut of steak, because it’s very tender and flavorful, and similar to filet mignon,” says Yanez. The steak will be accompanied by a fresh selection of steamed vegetables, a locally sourced cilantro and parsley chimichurri, and potatoes that have either been mashed or baked. One decadent and exciting dessert selection is the homemade white chocolate cheesecake with graham cracker crust, garnished with fresh local berries. AS

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Hoffman’s Bistro & Patisserie

1102 Pacific Ave, Santa Cruz

420-0135, hoffmanssantacruz.com

Hoffman’s Chef Mark Nicely doesn’t have to travel too far to keep it local: he buys his produce at the downtown farmers market one block away. But he also shops for fresh greens in Watsonville, and his fish is from Stagnaro. He serves meat that is free-range and grass-fed.

“This year we want to focus on what we do every day,” Nicely says, as opposed to putting out one-time Restaurant Week specials.

Nicely will be showcasing new items from the daily menu of German-style bistro and comfort food. That means fried chicken, home-cooked ribs, coconut shrimp, salmon brochette, jagerschnitzel, artichoke ravioli, and trout.

He also has a tangy salad up his sleeve. Made with Gala apples, it combines hydroponically grown lettuce from Watsonville with Point Reyes Bleu Cheese. Nicely done! BK

Hollins House

20 Clubhouse Road, Santa Cruz

459-9177, pasatiempo.com

The Hollins House has its own garden, and Chef John Paul Lechtenberg is going to be plucking herbs and vegetables as he designs his Restaurant Week menu.

“I’m just doing what tastes good and what’s available right now, seasonally. We’re keeping it pretty safe,” says Lechtenberg. “All the herbs that we use for the restaurant are from the garden. Every single dish has something from the garden in it.”

There’s even a dish that has every kind of produce from the garden—the caprese salad. “That dish is an avant-garde version of a caprese salad,” he says. “We harvest the sea salt from the Monterey Bay. We refine it down, and then we blend that with our herbs from the gardens. We make our own pancetta. We dehydrate that, turn it into a chip, so there’s crisp bacon on the plate, as well as cornmeal polenta cake that’s crispy, [with] our own mozzarella cheese that we make here.” AC

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Hula’s Island Grill

221 Cathcart St., Santa Cruz

426-4852, hulastiki.com

There’s always a local fish on the menu of this fusion restaurant with an aloha feel. They participate in the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program and now are switching to grass-fed and free-range meats. The restaurant and tiki bar also uses environmentally friendly products and to-go plates and utensils made from cornstarch, which are earth friendly.

Be on the watch for the Restaurant Week Hawaiian sea bass—or Hapu—which is white, light, flaky, and moist. It’s encrusted with lemongrass, panko and comes with a lime-ginger sauce.

“It’s a lot of people’s favorite thing,” says manager Hollis Ferguson, who has been at Hula’s since it opened nine years ago. The same fish is used in the ceviche appetizer.

Hula’s aloha comes with a side of Santa Cruz: in addition to burgers and chicken, they serve organic tofu dishes. BK

Ideal Bar and Grill

106 Beach St., Santa Cruz

423-5271, idealbarandgrill.com

With its location right on the wharf, diners likely expect an emphasis on seafood at Ideal Bar and Grill. And, indeed, for Restaurant Week diners, manager Stacy Levesque suggests a new item, which will be on their Restaurant Week menu, the lobster penne.

“The lobster is live Maine lobster. It’s a pasta that the chef created with a little kick to it, it has a little chipotle, and the live Maine lobster is mixed in there. There’s quite a bit of meat in there, and it is fresh. We get it flown in.” Ideal works with local companies whenever possible—like their new dessert, the Ideal Ice Cream Cookie, featuring Marianne’s Ice Cream and Pacific Cookie Company cookies. AC

Johnny’s Harborside

493 Lake Ave., Santa Cruz

479-3430, johnnysharborside.com

The Restaurant Week menu at Johnny’s Harborside reflects head chef Sergio Herrera’s diverse culinary leanings. “I really try to do local fresh California cuisine, with Cajun and Mexican influence. I like to use spicy bold flavors and feature local and seasonal products whenever available,” says Herrera. A locally caught salmon tartare is one appetizer option, featuring ginger and cucumber, as well as local jalapeños and cilantro from Watsonville Produce.
A beef medallion dish highlights the entrée choices, and will be served with balsamic cream, as well as local portabello mushrooms, potatoes, and rosemary. One unique and seasonally appropriate dessert will be a brown butter pumpkin cake, made with local pumpkins and topped with a whipped cream cheese frosting. AS

Kianti’s

1100 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz

469-4400, kiantis.com

Sometimes Restaurant Week dining is really about the simple pleasures in life—in other words, pizza and pasta. That’s exactly what Kianti’s is offering.

But co-owner Tracy Parks-Barber wants to give diners a lot of choices. “Our menu is designed to create your own pastas as well as pizzas. The third [menu item] is ravioli. You can choose between four types of ravioli and four types of sauces,” Parks-Barber says.

For dessert, she suggests their newest item, which they are rolling out specifically for Restaurant Week: cannoli. There’s no better way to cap off an evening of Italian favorites than with cannoli—unless it’s tiramisu, which is also a Restaurant Week option. AC

Kauboi Japanese Grill & Sushi

8017 Soquel Drive, Aptos

661-0449, kauboigrillandsushi.com

First off, no one gets the pronunciation of this two-year-old restaurant right the first time. It’s pronounced “cowboy” and was named for a Japanese anime cowboy movie spelled phonetically (Kauboi Be-Bop).

Everything about this restaurant in the old Britannia Arms site has an intriguing twist. Some sushi is topped with sriracha foam; they also have a gluten-free miso clam chowder. And for Restaurant Week, the tasting menu pairs sakes with sushi.

“We use organic chicken, grass-fed beef and we partner with the Monterey Bay Sustainable Seafood Watch,” says manager Dana Burstein. “That’s the foundation we are built on. From there, it’s about creating some fun food, pushing the envelope of what traditional sushi would be.”

How far from traditional? Perfect for the cowboy theme, this is one Japanese restaurant where you can get ramen, yakitori—or a great burger. BK

Margaritaville

231 Esplanade, Capitola

476-2263, margaritavillecapitola.com

Sarah Orr, owner and general manager of the newly renovated Margaritaville, is the first owner of the long-established Capitola landmark to take part in Restaurant Week. She is delighted to showcase the restaurant’s gleaming new look, and a menu inspired by her travels in Mexico.

“All of our contemporary Mexican seafood, including items on the Restaurant Week menu, are fresh, sustainable, and prepared from scratch,” she says. “I work with both Watsonville Coast Produce and a small farm owned by a family member to obtain tasty, in-season products.”

Included in the menu, for instance, are local apples in the apple crisp dessert, served with real whipped cream.

Also impressive is the panoramic ocean view from the bar, and 19 sleek new tables on the heated wrap-around terrace. Locally produced wines on the menu include Cinnabar, Ridge, Storrs, Soquel Vineyards, Silver Mountain and Testarossa, and local beers on draft include Corralitos and Discretion. JS

Michael’s on Main

2591 Main St., Soquel

479-0777, michaelsonmain.net

Each fall, owner-chef Michael Clark looks forward to Restaurant Week, feeling blessed to be living in the heart of an agricultural paradise.

“There are unique chocolate peppers, orange-persimmon tomatoes, squash, artichokes, free-range chickens and fantastic eggs to be had, and an ocean of fresh seafood. I talk with my local farmers on a weekly basis and feel like a kid in a candy store,” he says.

Clark doesn’t call it farm-to-table, rather, backdoor-to-table, as that’s the way some small farmers bring him their ingredients.

Clark is also one of the area’s most loyal supporters of locally produced wines and beer, pairing them with his popular ongoing weekly program of themed dinners. JS

Mozaic

110 Church St., Santa Cruz

454-8663

Upscale Mediterranean is on the menu at brand-new restaurant Mozaic, and co-owner Jay Dib gives much of the cuisine a Lebanese influence, including his baklava, one of the desserts on his Restaurant Week menu.

“It’s one of a kind. It’s very traditional. It’s different than the Greek, not as sweet,” he says. Dib goes to the farmers market whenever possible to get local produce for his entrees, like the spinach with his salmon dish.

“It’s on a bed of pilaf rice and sautéed spinach. We finish it off with some citrus beurre blanc sauce,” says Dib. AC

Laili Restaurant

101 Cooper St., Santa Cruz

423-4545, lailirestaurant.com

Tucked away across from the Museum of Art & History, Laili’s manager Matt Wafford says that most people find the Mediterranean restaurant, with flavors borrowed from the length of the Silk Road, through word of mouth.

The food is as exotic as the spelling. Kadoo boranee is butternut squash braised with onions, garlic, jalapeños, salt and sugar and served with minty yogurt.

There’s a chili from Afghanistan, and pomegranates bathe the chicken kabob and the eggplant with saffron basmati rice, chard, caramelized onion and qurut yogurt.

Everything is cooked fresh; nothing is premade and most of the ingredients are grown locally.

“We serve upscale food in a casual environment, “ says Wafford. BK

Oak Tree Ristorante

5447 Highway 9, Felton

335-5551, oaktreeristaurante.com

“Local” at Oak Tree Ristorante means picking things from the garden and fruit trees on its Felton property on the outskirts of town. The Italian restaurant changed owners in January.

“We are really trying to stay local,” says manager Kathy Topusidis. “But we serve some Italian wines. We’re an Italian restaurant, after all. We also serve plenty of local wines.”

If you love gnocchi, chef Marco Rocha makes it here, as well as mushroom ravioli, which can be topped with butter and sage or a pork sauce. The pasta is all homemade, except for the gluten-free version.

If you think chicken is boring, Topusidis thinks your attitude will change after trying their chicken saltimbocca, which includes smoked mozzarella and prosciutto in a reduction of Marsala wine, beef stock and sage.

Restaurant Week will feature gnocchi Capitano, with bay shrimp and prawns in a creamy tomato aurore sauce with capers, olives and garden tomatoes. They also offer shrimp scampi with asparagus, avocado, and capers in a lemon juice and white wine sauce.

One novel appetizer is scallops served with pineapple in a brandy cream sauce. Then for dessert, have a chocolate soufflé—which, adding to its guilty-pleasure factor, looks like a big Ho Ho. BK

Oswald

121 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz

423-7427, oswaldrestaurant.com

Oswald Restaurant has been serving California comfort food with a distinctly modern ambiance for two decades in the heart of downtown Santa Cruz, but this will be its first year as part of Restaurant Week. “Oswald is happy to be doing Restaurant Week this year,” says head chef and owner Damani Thomas. “It should be a blast, and we’re looking forward to seeing everyone.” Thomas’ menu this year includes a starter salad with locally sourced lettuce from Happy Boy Farm, Allen’s apples from Epicenter Farm, as well as pecans, blue cheese, and red wine vinaigrette. One housemade entrée option is the Mount Lassen crispy skinned trout, with green beans, local butternut squash, gnocchi, and a fuyu persimmon vinaigrette. For a bright and refreshing finish, try the homemade pomegranate sorbet, served with fresh whipped cream and an almond cookie. AS

Pearl of the Ocean

736 Water St., Santa Cruz

457-2350, pearloftheocean.net

There is only one restaurant in town that serves Sri Lankan food, making it a cuisine many locals don’t even know they want. The dishes are similar to Indian, but also very much their own thing.

Owner/chef Ayoma Wilen is always excited to introduce folks to the food, which she touts as extremely healthy. Everything she serves is local, except for the specialized foods shipped from Sri Lanka—like the jackfruit for the jackfruit curry, a truly unique (and vegetarian) dish folks can sample at Restaurant Week.

“The way it’s marinated with the spices is amazing,” says Wilen. “I wanted something authentic for people to try.”

She even had her own special wine made, which she plans to serve during Restaurant Week. “I’m happy to pour my own wine at Restaurant Week, and share it with all the customers,” she says. “It’s a joy to give people this experience.” AC

Ristorante Italiano

555 Soquel Ave. #150, Santa Cruz

458-2321, ristoranteitalianosc.com

Santa Cruz loves to go beyond tradition, and even this Italian restaurant tries to stretch its boundaries.

For Restaurant Week, Ristorante Italiano will serve a chicken wing appetizer, says manager Sandra Ramirez.

“You wouldn’t really think of them as Italian, but people really enjoy them,” she says.

With a quarter of the restaurant’s seating on delightful plant-filled patios, the Ristorante sort of feels like a visit to Italy. The former hospital site it’s housed in feels like a villa.

Artichoke hearts, gnocchi, Mediterranean salad and seafood Genovese round out the offerings.  Then there’s the chicken spinacchio, stuffed with bell peppers and provolone, served with vegetables.

“We do use local products. It’s important to us,” says Ramirez. “We know it’s something the community really wants.”

Up for a dessert you’ve never heard of before? Try the mini-frozen baked potato, which has nothing to do with the tubers, really—it’s potato-shaped ice cream formed into an exotic sundae. BK

Rosie McCann’s

1220 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz

426-9930, rosiemccanns.com

Rosie McCann’s General Manager Rico Contreras is on a mission: he believes booze shouldn’t be the only thing people come into the Irish Pub for.

“We want to reach out to people that maybe have not realized that we’re more than just a pub, that we have this great food that they can feel good about having because it’s healthy,” he says.  

They source much of their fish and vegetables locally, and make sure their beef is grass-fed, like the flat iron steak, one of the dishes they are offering for Restaurant Week. He also wants to highlight mahi mahi.

“It comes with sautéed spinach. We try to source that locally through Happy Boy,” he says. Folks shouldn’t forget about the clam chowder, a favorite at the Clam Chowder Cook-Off every year. They are also going to have seven local beers on tap specifically for Restaurant Week. AC

Sanderling’s at Seascape

1 Seascape Resort Drive, Aptos

662-7120, sanderlingsrestaurant.com

Besides its spectacular ocean views, Sanderlings restaurant in Aptos will be presenting a diverse and delicious menu this year, created by chef Mario Garcia. “Our chef is into different country infusions,” says assistant restaurant manager Sally Locke-Paddon, who adds that all their vegetables are local and organic.

Highlights include roasted Brussels sprouts and pancetta salad with Gouda cheese, local apples and arugula, finished with a red wine vinaigrette. An organic roasted chicken is available as an entrée, served with heirloom baby potatoes, wild mushrooms, local organic spinach, and a butter pan sauce. Dessert options include not only a crème brûlée, but also a Nutella cheesecake topped with local strawberries. AS

Severino’s

7500 Old Dominion Court, Aptos

661-4672, severinosbarandgrill.com

Long-standing chef Antonio Gomez strives to serve food prepared with as many local ingredients as possible, unlike products picked early and shipped from far away.

“Locally grown food is of a higher quality, and the most fresh,” he says. “The majority of our produce is sourced from organic farmers here and in surrounding counties, but we also gather herbs and foliage from our on-site garden. Start with caprese salad to enjoy not only local heirloom tomatoes and basil grown on the property, but also fresh mozzarella and extra-virgin olive oil grown and produced in our great state.”

He also suggests trying the Mediterranean style roasted portobello, for the taste of mushrooms grown right down the road in Monterey, and served on vegetable ratatouille.

“Last but not least,” says Gomez of Severino’s Restaurant Week menu, “for dessert we take bread made fresh in Watsonville and transform it into Chocolate Kahlua bread pudding.” JS

Soif Wine Bar

105 Walnut Ave., Santa Cruz

423-2020, soifwine.com

Manager Gregory Poux says Soif’s motto is “eat locally and drink globally.” The great challenge for the chefs at the wine bar and restaurant is to mix homegrown and local meals with exotic wines from France, Austria, Germany and Italy, to name a few.

His Restaurant Week menu is designed to show off some of the unusual dishes made from fresh, local produce.

Appetizers include heirloom tomato soup with cracked pepper gougères, which is puff pastry filled with cheese and cracked pepper; a lamb and pistachio tureen with lamb, celery, fennel, rosemary and green olives; and a salad with kohlrabi radish, pomegranates and a coriander vinaigrette.

Main courses include pork belly with a polenta griddle cake, braised greens and a soft-cooked egg, and red quinoa fried rice with bok choy, glazed carrots, chard, scallions and sesame.

“We’re really just modern California cuisine, and our big challenge is to find dishes that pair up with a wide and eclectic variety of wines,” says Poux. BK

Stonehouse Bar & Grill

6001 La Madrona Drive, Santa Cruz

440-1000, hilton.com

This comfortable, friendly lounge is undergoing a big renovation—as is its home, the Scotts Valley Hilton.

Food and beverage manager Eva McClure says Restaurant Week is a chance for her to showcase the menu that will be unveiled when the work is done in January.

The restaurant is one of the few that serves until 11 p.m. on weekends.

“If you want good food that’s not fast food later in the evening, you come here,” she says. About half the patrons are locals, and even some of the business travelers visit enough to be practically considered locals.

Restaurant Week diners will get a sneak peek at the crab and corn chowder; the strip steak with cognac cream sauce; a half chicken with thyme, lemon and mint pesto risotto; and the capellini pomodoro.

Diners have already been introduced to the three-hour meatballs, which are a big hit in the bar. You don’t have to wait three hours for them to cook, but the place is loungy with a homespun California feel, so you might want to. BK

The Point Chophouse

3326 Portola Drive, Santa Cruz

476-2733, thepointchophouse.com

The Point Chophouse, a Pleasure Point neighborhood favorite, features a menu designed by their new head chef Peter McAtee. “I’m excited to see how people react to my food,” he says.

The menu is varied and creative; for instance, the Mediterranean meatball appetizer, made with lamb and beef, served with fine saffron straight from Spain and finished with a locally sourced mint chimichurri. Basa, a firm and flaky white fish, will be crusted in almonds and then baked, served on a bed of seared local spinach with Chinese black forbidden rice, and an imaginative pineapple beurre rouge sauce. McAtee’s favorite dessert is the house-made tiramisu, made with rum and coffee-soaked pound cake, sugar and local egg yolks, and topped with a Cointreau whipped cream. AS

The Red Restaurant and Bar

200 Locust St.,  Santa Cruz

425-1913, redrestaurantandbar.com

Red Restaurant and Bar will be serving a globally inspired menu this year. “I think the most important thing to remember is that food from all over the world can be delicious,” says general manager Taylor Fontana. “It’s easy to get stuck in one lane, but there are so many different styles of amazing foods, and we’re trying to highlight that.”

Look no further than the Thai-inspired laap salad for a first course, with thin-sliced New York steak on a bed of organic local romaine, cherry tomato, cucumber, mint, green onion, crispy rice noodles, and finished with a jalapeño lime dressing. One entrée choice from Italy is the cozze sulla tagliatelle. The dish uses a homemade spinach pasta, blue mussels and sauteed local Rodoni Farm artichoke hearts, brought together with a white wine reduction. A dessert choice originating from Puerto Rico is the Bizcocho de Ron. It consists of house-made sponge cake infused with spiced rum and coffee, and served with chocolate ganache and powdered sugar. AS

Tyrolean Inn

9600 Hwy. 9, Ben Lomond

336-5188, tyroleaninn.com

Unlike other Restaurant Week chefs, shopping local is the last thing on Gregory Magnusson’s mind. He’s been chef at this southern German restaurant for three decades, and his goal is to keep things authentic—as in, German! (Yes, the produce and meat are from around here, though.)

“Anyone with heritage or experience in Germany, we try to bring that back to what we do over here,” he says. The best compliment he’s gotten was when someone told him his monthly buffet was like going to their grandmother’s house. He was nicknamed “Grandma” after that.

Traditional German food isn’t very Santa Cruz, he adds—it’s heavy, the portions are big and there’s lard involved. But they also offer vegetarian meals and cater to individual dietary concerns.

If you were going for the first time, you might be surprised at how spicy Bavarian food is. The goulash has onions, bell peppers, garlic and diced jalapenos. It’s served with spätzel—egg noodles that have been pan-fried with butter and parsley.

The holzfällerpfanne is two pork loin chops with onion, mushroom, bacon, tomato and a bit of jalapeño for spice. And, says Magnusson, he’s converted a vegetarian with his schweinshaxe, pork shank braised for six hours until the skin is crisp and the insides fall off the bone, served with red cabbage and dumplings.

You can’t not have apple strudel, as German as apple pie is American, right?  Or you can try Bayerische, the German version of mousse firmed up with gelatin. BK

The Water Street Grill

503 Water St., Santa Cruz

332-6122, thewaterstreetgrill.com

Owner Jonathan Degeneres has a seafood restaurant by the Boardwalk, El Hermoso Mar, but he’s geared his newest venture, the Water Street Grill, for Santa Cruzans who want gourmet food and vegan or vegetarian offerings.

His produce comes from local farmers markets all the way to Watsonville; his fish is from Stagnaro’s. Some of his favorites are the fresh corn and bell peppers for the mango salsa that goes with his fish tacos.

He has responded to requests for gluten-free items, but only wanted to include them if he could make them taste great. He’s got a full vegan and vegetarian menu with items like spaghetti squash in place of pasta.

But if you have a hankering for pasta, he has six kinds of ravioli, including garlic and shrimp, spinach, cheese, chicken, lobster and artichoke. He’s also got carrot soup and a regular special of ribeye and lobster tail with mashed potatoes and asparagus.

He plans to show off as many organic specials as he can during Restaurant Week, to show people the variety they can expect from the restaurant that’s been open only nine months.

“We’re a small restaurant with a lot of choices,” says Degeneres. BK

Your Place

1719 Mission St., Santa Cruz

426-3564, yourplacesc.com

Your Place is a quirky little spot, as evidenced by the name. Chef Art Russell uses a lot of local produce and meat, and sees the act of preparing menus as similar to creating art—but also makes sure it’s tasty and hits all the right flavor buttons. How thoughtfully he prepares his menu is evident in how he describes one of his favorite offerings from this Restaurant Week menu:

“I put on the filet [mignon] because not a lot of people get a chance to eat filet for $25. I think that’s really a good deal,” he says. “And using the truffle glaze is interesting. I’m using the portabello mushrooms for that on the toppings, so it’s a very interesting dish.” He also recommends the local salmon, served with fresh crab and hollandaise sauce on top of it. How’s that for creativity? AC

Zelda’s

203 Esplanade, Capitola

475-4900, zeldasonthebeach.com

Zelda’s offers indoor-outdoor dining that takes full advantage of its oceanfront location. Owner Jill Ealy and her staff have prepared a menu for this year’s Restaurant Week that begins with a classic bruschetta. Bread is from Sumano’s Bakery, and the tomatoes and basil are also local. The appetizer is finished with Parmesan cheese and a balsamic reduction.

Entrée choices are highlighted by their cioppino. “It’s a beautiful dish,” says Ealy. “People just raved about it at our sister restaurant in San Diego, so we’ve added it to our menu this year. It’s been super successful.” The classic Central Coast dish includes prawns, mussels, clams, and white fish in a spicy tomato clam wine broth, served with crispy garlic bread. A dessert favorite is the homemade toasted coconut cheesecake, made with Glaum Ranch eggs. “It is the creamiest cheesecake, and is much lighter than the denser New York style,” says Ealy. AS

Contributor at Good Times |

Aaron is a hard-working freelance writer with a focus on music, art, food, culture and travel. In addition to Good Times, he's a regular contributor to Sacramento News & Review, VIA Magazine and Playboy. When he's not working, he's either backpacking, arguing about music or working on his book about ska. One thing's for sure—he knows more about ska than you.

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