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Dining Reviews

Easterly Win

East End Gastropub springs to life with killer dishes and impressive ambiance, plus a new Westside partnership

The intensely flavorful petite marinated lamb chops at East End Gastropub. PHOTO: CHIP SCHEUER

How very San Francisco, we thought as we slid into a banquette seat at the chic new East End Gastropub. Busy adding luster to the otherwise predictable ambience of the spacious shopping complex on 41st Avenue, the not-so-twin sister of West End Tap & Kitchen has already found its audience. Multi-generational diners and a bar filled with craft beer lovers were busy enjoying chef Geoffrey Hargrave’s inventive menu when we arrived for an early dinner.

From the retro wall sconces to open kitchen energy, East End looks terrific. It was impossible not to be impressed with the large-scale vertical plantings placed out front and on the entry wall—the eye-catching work of Rebecca Paiss’ Sweet Lime container gardens. After a sample of the current sour ale—a complex creation of sour cherries and barrel aging from Hermitage Brewing—we settled on a pint of West End Gold blonde ale ($5.50) and an elegant Pinot Noir from Windy Oaks ($15).

We split two gorgeously presented starters. The petite marinated lamb chops striding a pool of roasted bell pepper coulis, with spicy green harissa and a few infant beet greens on top, were intensely flavorful ($12). A splendid appetizer—perfect with beer— I would order it again in a heartbeat. The very plump beet arancini ($10) were a bit overwhelming. Adorned with a delicious salad of lemony arugula and sitting on an herb pistou, the deliciously chewy rice and cheese balls overplayed their hand. We’re thinking that perhaps, in their case, less would be more; smaller beet balls may be more approachable. Our other starter, Chef Hargrave’s honey-cured pork belly concept worked brilliantly. Two substantial wedges of crispy, succulent pork belly—designer bacon—arrived topped with a luscious fried farm egg whose unctuous yolk oozed onto the bed of farro and crisp sauteed brussel sprouts ($19). I could have eaten this dish all day long. “Bacon and eggs for dinner,” quipped my dinner partner.

For my money, this is a destination dish, although the tables on either side of us were busy with orders of the obviously popular roast heritage chicken with green beans and grilled buttermilk biscuit. OK, I’ll try that on my next visit. Another entree might need re-thinking: the handmade rye pappardelle—who could resist the idea?—proved both soft and indistinct in flavor ($17). The large ricotta and green garlic pesto topping didn’t quite amp up the interest, although the lemon zest and toasted hazelnuts were delicious. Throughout our meal, East End filled up with a lively group of patrons. We admired the outstanding wait staff—helpful, attentive, never hovering—and the generous portions. Serious value for one’s dollar in every dish.

We couldn’t resist sampling a dessert of Meyer lemon panna cotta. Our spoons descended through a thick band of berry sauce that covered the creamy pudding ($8). Bits of spiced polenta lay waiting unexpectedly at the bottom of the pudding. Great flavor combinations, though we found the abundant blueberry sauce quite sweet. All in all, less than a month old, East End Gastropub already sports lots of polish and some enticing dishes. Looking forward to my next visit! East End Gastropub is at 1501 41st Ave., next to Palace Arts in Capitola. Open daily from 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m, except for Tuesday and Wednesday, 5 p.m.-10 p.m.

Westside Expansion

A new space-sharing adventure is starting up between cozy neighbors, Companion Bakeshop and Odonata Wine Tasting Room. Shared patio seating and more space for the busy Bakeshop ovens are being planned for the expansion that will occur over the next few months. Bread in the morning and wine at night. Heaven.

Christina Waters was born in Santa Cruz and raised all over the world (thanks to an Air Force dad), with real-world training in painting, music, winetasting, trail running, organic gardening, and teaching. She has a PhD in Philosophy, teaches in the Arts at UCSC and sings with the UCSC Concert Choir. Look for her recent memoir “Inside the Flame” at bookstores everywhere.

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